Mitt Romney continues to follow his campaign strategy based on emulating Mr. Collins by once again saying the very worst thing you can say. It’s like watching ten or twenty years of hard-won progress in teaching the people who understand economics how not to talk about poverty go right down the drain in front of your eyes.
This is not really about substance, this is about language. But language matters. A lot! People use stories to organize their lives. One of their stories is that good people care about the poor and bad people don’t. It’s a good story! (In fact, you can read about it in a good book.)
So you have to show people that you’re part of that story. Once you’ve shown them that, you can then move on and show them that there are a few chapters of the story that they haven’t read yet – the ones about what really works and what doesn’t in actually helping the poor.
As NRO’s Jim Geraghty points out, except for that one really, really tremendously bad choice of words, Romney can basically be defended on the substance:
Perhaps the most dispiriting point in all of this is that Romney alludes to a whole bunch of defensible points in this cavalcade of trouble. He could point out that decades of the welfare state have shown us the limits of government efforts to lift up the “very poor.” He could echo Rick Santorum’s points that the most effective way to end poverty is to ensure the poor work, graduate high school, and get married before they have children. He could point out that the Great Recession has impacted middle-income Americans most severely because they had the most to lose; life under the poverty line in 2006 is not terribly different from under the poverty line in 2012. (How many “very poor” face foreclosure? How many “very poor” have lost their retirement savings? How many “very poor” have seen their small businesses fail?) He could point out that Obama has particularly failed to create opportunities for upward mobility, and that endlessly extending unemployment benefits and expanding the eligibility for food stamps is a band-aid solution at best, and only increases dependency on government assistance. He could point out that the entire philosophy of the welfare state tends to focus government efforts and resources on the poorest, most troubled, and most needing of help, and often neglects the concerns and needs of those who work hard and play by the rules.
But of course, our Mr. Collins can be relied upon never to even begin articulating any of those positions.
Eric Teetsel over at Values and Capitalism schools the hapless clergyman on faith and care for the poor:
Mittens—listen up. You claim to be a man of faith. You donate a lot of money to your church. I think you even gave a poor lady like $50 at a rope line. Caring for a group some might call “the least of these” ought to come naturally to you.
Since it doesn’t, in the name of not making my work harder, do me a solid and try the following:
Don’t say, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Instead try, “I’m very concerned about the poor.”
Don’t say, “We have a safety net there.” Instead argue, “History has proven that the key to prosperity is free enterprise. I want to unleash the entrepreneurial talent of the poor, the middle class and everyone else by enacting policies that incentivize innovation and reward hard work.”
Don’t say, “You can focus on the poor, that’s not my focus.” Do say, “It’s time Republicans took back the mantle of concern for the poor. We are the party that ended slavery. We are the party that enacted welfare reform that turned millions of Americans from takers to makers.”
In a just world, Eric would be one of those guys making six figures to tell Mr. Collins how the world works. But don’t get any ideas, Eric – it’s not a just world! (Full disclosure: Eric’s employer is a grantee of my employer.)
That brokered convention can’t come soon enough.