By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Stung by the historic defeat in last year’s presidential election, the GOP has embarked upon a relaunch of its ideology. RNC chair Reince Priebus has approved a strategy paper (click to read) composed by Republican bigwigs Henry Barbour (Haley’s nephew) and Ari Fleischer that makes a remarkable discovery:
The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hard-working people who want to become hard-working middle-income Americans. Middle-income Americans want to become upper-middle-income, and so on. We need to help everyone make it in America.
Yep, the party who deifies the man who made lots of political hay denigrating mythical “welfare queens,” and whose successors famously referred to President Obama as the “Food Stamp President” has figured out that in this democracy votes still trump principles — even long-held despicable ones. Republicans, it seems, can read a demographic map and, due in large part to the anti-poverty positions they have rammed through Congress (sometimes with the help of Democratic presidents), the Nation is mostly poorer. In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons lived in poverty. The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993. That’s about 46 million Americans living below the poverty line.
Poverty in America charts remarkably close to the party in power — at least for some population groups. In the 1950s, overall poverty was an astonishing 22.4%. A steady decline through the 1960s was fostered by the much maligned, but factually effective, “War On Poverty” of the Kennedy, Johnson (and yes), the Nixon Administrations. Poverty bottomed out in 1973 with the rate standing at roughly 11%. During the ensuing decade, poverty remained more or less constant at between 11.1 to 12.6%. Then came the right-wing Reagan Revolution in 1980 where being poor was somehow seen as akin to being criminal. Reagan made that connection explicit for any GOP dolt too dull to spew the bile on their own, and the “War To Resume Poverty” was on. During the 80s, the US poverty rate climbed steadily back to 15.2% representing about 35 million Americans. Reagan was an unrelenting slasher of programs such as Aid To Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), and subsidized housing. But, Reagan was careful not to hurt programs for the elderly who formed a core of the Republicans’ voting base. In fact, the poverty rate for US citizens over 65-years-old actually steadily declined from its high point in the 1960s.
Came the 90s and the Clinton Administration. Poverty again made a sea change and began declining. Such factors as the growing economy had its effect, but Clinton was a proponent of Reagan’s policy of “workfare” and his historic reform of welfare undoubtedly hindered that process despite the overall poverty rate decline to 11.3% in 2000. Predictably the poverty rate has increased under succeeding Republican administrations to its 2010 level.
The effects of poverty haven’t hit across the board as many know. Here’s how the National Poverty Center explains the level of poverty for various socio-economic groups:
The poverty rate for all persons masks considerable variation between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.
Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.
There are also differences between native-born and foreign-born residents. In 2010, 19.9 percent of foreign-born residents lived in poverty, compared to 14.4 percent of residents born in the United States. Foreign-born, non-citizens had an even higher incidence of poverty, at a rate of 26.7 percent.
What the Republicans have discovered – with a cold slap across the face in 2012 election — is that these populations vote. As they become larger segments of the voting class, their impact is made known. How else to explain the plethora of GOP backed voter fraud laws requiring picture id? Republicans know full-well the group least likely to own a car and hence possess a readily obtainable picture id are the poor.
Predictably, the Republicans paint a rosy picture of this sad demographic in the strategy paper:
The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious [Republicans’] position has become. America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal … the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.
Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson takes the issue head-on: “One of the biggest brand challenges for the GOP is to credibly demonstrate they are a party for everyone, not just the rich.” Take that Gov. Romney and your 47% quip. Here’ s the exiting polling from the 2012 election by income level. Note the disparity:
The old GOP canard about low-income folks not voting has finally been exposed for what it was. One of the reasons the Republicans were so astonished at their loss at the polls was their belief the American people would punish Obama for the bad economy. Central to that tenet was that low-income groups were most affected by the bank-driven recession and would throw the bums out. That political calculation was turned on its head as poor whites joined poor ethnic voters to elect Obama.
Thus the GOP stands at a cross-road between their extreme right-wing, every-man-for-himself ideology and recognizing political reality. Wrought by policies they espoused, the poor have roared back to take away what the Right deems most important of all — an unfettered, perpetual deed to the White House. Some in the GOP haven’t gotten the message yet, like firebrand Paul Ryan. Ryan recently announced his plan to slash $1.4 Million from Medicaid. A paltry amount by Washington standards but hugely important from a symbolic point of view. To add some insult, the staunchly religious Ryan (who claims the budget is closely in line with his Catholic upbringing) proposed 3.3 trillion dollars in budget cuts over a ten-year span with a full 66% of that amount coming from programs specifically designed to aid the poor, all the while reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In addition his plan –passed by the House this week but rejected by the Senate — would severely limit eligibility for most other programs. You can read about the specifics of the plan in the Huff Post article here.
All in all, the GOP has quite the conundrum. Accede to the most radical elements of its party and watch its political power ebb, or embrace the view of more moderate elements and accept a “Big Tent” strategy. The decision hinges mightily on the feelings of the poor — a circumstance that could not be more irritating for the party who helped create them.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger