Op-ed: Solutions to poverty not posturing

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Monday, January 11, 2016 5:58pm
  • Opinion

In sports, if a game plan is not working, the coach changes it. In medicine, if a course of treatment does not cure a disease, doctors try a different approach. In government, failure means nothing. Government keeps cash flowing with little regard for results. In government, failure endures.

In an attempt to change our approach to poverty and to combat the long-held liberal accusation that conservatives care only about tax cuts for the rich and cutting programs for the poor, the Jack Kemp Foundation sponsored a forum last weekend in Columbia, South Carolina.

Led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the gathering focused on ways to help the poor get out and stay out of poverty, which participants charged liberal programs have not done and are incapable of doing.

“U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on ‘anti-poverty’ programs since President Lyndon Johnson announced a ‘war on poverty’” in 1964, writes the Heritage Foundation, and yet the poverty rate has not changed all that much, from 19 percent in 1965 to 14.8 percent in 2014. It’s long past time to come at the issue in a different way. Real compassion helps people break their dependency on government and become self-reliant.

Kemp’s optimism is well known to those who were around during the Reagan years. He was an economic conservative, who brought from his pro football career a belief in racial equality, thanks in part to his longstanding friendship with many African-American players. Kemp went into poor neighborhoods and demonstrated by his presence that he cared about helping the poor escape poverty, not sustain them in poverty with a small government check.

Empowerment could have been his middle name.

The key to unlocking the prison door that keeps too many locked in poverty is education. Democrats have consistently stood against school choice for poor children trapped in failing public schools because teachers’ unions often oppose choice and historically contribute to their political campaigns. An educated child is more likely to find a job and be able to support a family. An uneducated child will likely repeat the poverty cycle. That is a fact.

Ask yourself: Are you motivated more by optimism or negativity, by hope, or hopelessness? Donald Trump believes the American dream is dead. How is that approach going to help revive it?

At the Kemp Forum, a video was shown of a faith-based program that frees men from alcohol and drug dependency. One man, a former addict, said, “I have a fire in me I didn’t use to have.” Lighting a fire inside is essential if a person is to escape poverty.

Growing the economy, a flat tax and other proposals are all good, but ultimately every poor person must come to embrace the prospect of success over failure, of optimism over pessimism. They also must listen to the right voices, not the ones associated with the Democratic establishment, which preaches that racism is at the heart of poverty. They must hear from black entrepreneurs and successful fathers and mothers who have emerged from poverty to build a life independent of government and of a Democratic Party that talks about poverty but has done little to eradicate it. Perhaps that’s what Democrats fear most, that if the poor are no longer addicted to government they will be more independent in their political thinking.

When I was a child my father took the training wheels off my bicycle and said, “You can do this.” He instilled confidence in me and I rode the bike without the training wheels. It’s time to take the training wheels off poverty and help the poor ride on their own. They can do this. Speakers at the Kemp Forum offered the poor a big dose of hope and pointed the way.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

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