LBJ’s so-called “war on poverty” kicked off a trajectory of public policy that has shown a remarkable tendency to create more of the same — affirming cycles of dependency, disintegrating relational capital, and over-elevating material tinkering to the detriment of the permanent things.
Yet somehow the prevailing narrative still holds that those same sickly policies are the best we can hope for, and anyone who disagrees is an enemy of the poor. If money shall be transferred from Person X to Person Y and the label on the packaging reads “anti-poverty!”, what else is there to discuss?
In a recent interview with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts assumes the common prejudice (4:11):
Roberts begins by pointing to a series of progressive measures that Scott has opposed in the past, proceeding to ask, quite presumptuously, “How do you respond to that, if your true concern is about lower income families and kids?” One can only be concerned for the poor if they subscribe to the very policies that have failed them, apparently.
At this point, many conservative politicians will begin to wobble, whether blinded by their own materialistic priorities or overwhelmed by the peculiar rhetorical constraints.
Scott, however, responds quite handily, pointing out the problems with surface-level tinkering, and more importantly, countering with a coherent vision of opportunity, work ethic, education, and individual freedom:
Well, let’s just ask ourselves as we look back over history when the Congress was controlled by the Democrats for 40 consecutive years. If we look at the result of that control what has happened in black America. We saw greater poverty. If we take the statistics from 1970s to the 21st century, what we see very clearly is that poverty has gone from 11% to 15%. These are classic examples that the policies of the left have not worked…
… I was a kid growing up in poverty. I had a mentor who was a Chick-Fil-A operator who taught me that the brilliance of the American economy happens through business ownership and entrepreneurial spirit. So whether you own the business or not, success is possible if you (a) have a good education, (b) have a strong work ethic. For the average person who can work, these two key components come together and form a foundation. That is the way that you eradicate poverty.
All the social programs that we’ve had — we’ve had the largest government we’ve ever had in the history of the country. We have more nonprofit organizations working on the same issue and yet we have a higher percentage of people living in poverty. The key it seems like is individual freedom and economic opportunity, fusing those together in an agenda that focuses on education seems to lead forward. This is clearly the case in D.C. where the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship has produced higher percentage of kids going to college. It’s produced 91% of the kids graduating from high school versus 56% for those who are simply in everyday schools in D.C. I want that to be the case for either child.
There’s plenty more that could be said on the particulars, from the importance of virtue and ethics to the related impacts to and from the family to the overarching importance of submitting ourselves and our communities to the divine source from which all blessings flow.
But from a basic political and rhetorical perspective, Scott’s is a refreshing response in a conversation that has for far too long been dominated by hollow sloganeering and the bullying of insecure elites.
Individual freedom and economic and educational opportunity matter, and as Scott duly reminds us, they matter most for the least of these.