It's not surprising that Ryan, who got his start working for Jack Kemp and William Bennett at Empower America, sees the world this way. Though it's a total secret to members of the press and the Democratic Party, conservative intellectuals have been grappling with the problems of poverty in America for several decades and have arguably advanced more reforms (including school choice, charter schools, enterprise zones and community policing) than liberals have. Some of those reforms, such as those adopted by Rudolph Giuliani in New York, profoundly improved the lives of the poor by, among other enhancements, making their neighborhoods far safer.
Still, the popular perception of Republicans as the party of the rich has been reinforced by the party's opposition to tax hikes (always characterized by the press as "even for the wealthiest") and by the Democrats' relentless spin. Six in 10 respondents to a December Bloomberg poll said Republicans were too concerned about protecting the rich. A McLaughlin poll from 2011 found that 88 percent of likely voters considered a candidate's position on poverty to be important in determining their vote.
If Republican politicians do begin to focus more on poverty, as Ryan recommends, they will have the field to themselves. Democrats no longer talk about the poor.
Barack Obama began his career as a community organizer. In 2007, he excoriated George W. Bush for failing those in "vast swaths of rural America" and in inner cities "who cannot hire lobbyists" and "cannot write thousand dollar campaign checks." The government, Senator Obama said, "cannot guarantee success and happiness in life," but can "ensure that every American who wants to work is ... able to find a job and able to stay out of poverty."
The anti-poverty talk was missing from the 2012 campaign. It was all about the middle class. Perhaps that's because Obama's first term created so very much more poverty. There are more poor people in America today than at any time since the Great Depression. There were 32 million Americans collecting food stamps in 2008. Now that figure is 47 million. Spending on food stamps doubled between 2007 and 2011.
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