A clarifying moment, courtesy of Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett (via The Blaze):
"We are working hard to lift people out of poverty...that's what government is supposed to do."
From one end of the American political spectrum to the other, everyone abhors poverty -- no matter how it's defined. As Tina Korbe at Hot Air writes, our ideological fault lines are defined not by disputes over who hates poverty more, but by what to do about it.. Liberals like Valerie Jarrett believe the government's role is to act as the principal vehicle for extricating its citizens from dire economic conditions. Conservatives believe the federal government should strive to create an even playing field that affords all citizens the equal opportunity to work hard and improve their standing in life. This includes maintaining a basic civic safety net for those who cannot help themselves, a substantial portion of which relies on private charity, religious institutions, and local communities. (As a group, American conservatives are much more generous when it comes to charitable giving than their liberal counterparts). This vision was laid out eloquently by Sen. Marco Rubio during a recent speech at the Reagan Presidential Library:
These are proper roles of government -- within the framework of creating an environment where economic security and prosperity is possible. And on the compassion side of the ledger, which is also important to Americans -- and it’s important that we remind ourselves of that -- I don’t really like labels in politics, but I will gladly accept the label of conservatism. Conservatism is not about leaving people behind. Conservatism is about empowering people to catch up, to give them the tools at their disposal that make it possible for them to access all the hope, all the promise, all the opportunity that America offers. And our programs to help them should reflect that.
Now, yes, there are people that cannot help themselves. And those folks we will always help. We are too rich and prosperous a nation to leave them to fend for themselves. But all the others that can work should be given the means of empowering themselves to enter the marketplace and the workforce. And our programs and our policies should reflect that. We do need a safety net, but it cannot be a way of life. It must be there to help those who have fallen, to stand up and try again.
Amen. Even if you're a bleeding heart type who's inclined to agree with Jarrett that the feds ought to take a more proactive role in directly aiding the poor through wealth redistribution, I'd point out that Big Government has done a really lousy job at achieving that goal through the years. The Democrats' Great Society and its "war on poverty" has been a wildly costly and tragically ineffective proposition. More recently, President Obama promised that his 2009 "stimulus" program would "lift two million Americans from poverty." Hundreds of billions of dollars later, 2.9 million more Americans have fallen into poverty. Which is to say nothing of the gutwrenching economic desolation that has afflicted so many of human history's socialistic dystopias.
Big, overbearing, meddling government isn't merely philosophically wrongheaded, it just doesn't work. That's why conservatives are exempliying true compassion when they work to limit the size, scope, and influence of a Leviathan that consumes greedily, but has little to show for it.