John McCain has been on the Republican equivalent of a Bed-Stuy tour. Bedford-Stuyvesant was once a frequent campaign stop for Democratic candidates who stood in front of destroyed or rundown buildings amid some of the worst poverty in New York City, promising to fix the place with more government spending.
McCain has been touring poor neighborhoods where the likelihood of his winning votes is nil. In New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, he stood with the new Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and pledged to the residents of the 9th Ward, "the people of New Orleans, and the people of this country that never again, never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way it was handled."
All of this is fine and it might even help diminish the usual slurs Democrats use against Republicans about how they care nothing for the poor. The answer to this is that if Democrats care about the poor, why haven't they solved the problem of poverty? And the answer to that is that Democrats need people to remain poor and, thus, dependent on them so they can get their votes. McCain has repeatedly said he wants a "civil" campaign so don't look for him to offer such a response.
Here is some advice for McCain: stop identifying with failure and begin identifying with success. Before the era of entitlement and low expectations, there were Horatio Alger stories about people who overcame difficult circumstances and prospered. McCain should begin identifying people who have overcome poverty and let them tell their stories of how they did it. Those stories are better than the stories of people mired in poverty, largely because of wrong decisions, who are doomed to remain there because they've been told the best they can hope for is a government check. Success becomes an example for others to follow. Stories about poverty inspire no one.
Victory not defeat, achievement not failure ought to be McCain's strategy. These American stories are really the story of America.
One doesn't "tackle poverty," like a football player. One shows the way of escape and provides sufficient role models along with capital and moral and educational structures that serve as ladders so people who want to climb out of the hole can do so.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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