After Paul Ryan helped Mitt Romney lose the 2012 election by doing the impossible -- losing a debate to Joe Biden -- he went on an intimate tour of poverty. It was a journey so personal, Ryan brought reporters, writers and documentary producers with him.
So far, he's gotten one book and one documentary out of The Paul Ryan Intimate Poverty Tour -- we're still waiting for the tote bags -- and is currently promoting a major poverty-fighting initiative that he brainstormed during private moments of reflection, somehow captured by the press: "The Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity."
Appropriately for an event named after Ryan's mentor, Jack Kemp, the forum will allow Ryan to showcase his deep concern for the poor without doing a thing to help them. This is the hallmark of the "empowerment" crowd. What matters is their own self-regard and favorable press notices, not doing anything useful.
In the 1996 vice presidential debate, Al Gore repeatedly praised Kemp for not being a racist -- unlike the rest of his party. After Gore called Kemp a "lonely voice" in the GOP, "who says we ought to be one nation," Kemp did not say:
MY PARTY? YOUR PARTY HAS A FORMER KLAN MEMBER IN THE SENATE! YOUR FATHER VOTED AGAINST THE 1964 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT! YOUR PARTY DESTROYED THE BLACK FAMILY!
No, Kemp's response was: "Well, I thank you, Al. I mean that very, very sincerely."
For all Kemp's claims to being black America's truest friend, he didn't actually help any minorities. His famed "enterprise zones" were a renowned flop.
By now there have been approximately 1 million studies on the effect of "enterprise zones," "empowerment zones" and -- Obama's version -- "promise zones." The conclusion: Every single penny has been wasted. Businesses game the system, relocate shops from just outside the zone to just within it, or take tax credits for doing nothing that they weren't already planning to do.
The principal result of Kemp's enterprise zones was to double HUD's budget.
But Kemp, like his protege Ryan, was everything big corporations and Wall Street love in a Republican: He'd give them tax cuts, cheap labor and moral self-righteousness. Washington is full of these Kemparatchiks, churning out documents and admiring quotes about one another to willing reporters.
The Kemp boys think they're a big hit with poor minorities -- especially Hispanics. Ryan, for example, is a huge supporter of driving down Hispanic wages by endlessly dumping low-wage workers on the country. Empowerment!
Two years ago, Ryan bragged to a Catholic radio station: "I actually campaigned with Jack Kemp against a thing called Prop 187."
That "thing" was an overwhelmingly popular initiative to prevent illegal aliens from collecting government benefits. It gave Republicans their biggest victory in California in the last 30 years, was supported by a majority of blacks, a majority of whites, a majority of Asians and 31 percent of Hispanics.
Two years later, the Dole-Kemp ticket got only 21 percent of the Hispanic vote. That's worse than Romney! (These empowerment types really have their finger on the pulse of ethnic America!)
Like Kemp, Ryan acts as if he's the tribune of blacks and Hispanics, chastising Republicans for "preaching to the choir." He prefers to preach to the mariachi band -- one of which serenaded him on his visit to an immigrant rights group in Chicago, a few months after his failed vice presidential bid.
How about Ryan run for mayor of Los Angeles? After he wins, he can lecture us about how his Jack Kemp message resonates with Hispanics.
Ryan's big idea on poverty is indistinguishable from Kemp's: "Get money and capital and credit into the inner cities of America and the barrios and ghettos of America." This will "empower people"!
The best thing I ever heard about Dick Cheney is that, after listening to Ryan drone on about how Republicans needed to create "a real ownership society" at a meeting with members of Congress, Cheney said, "Yeah, we're not going to do that," and then turned to a different representative.
Imagining a photo of himself on the mantle of every black household in America, Ryan touts his forum on poverty, saying, "There are few challenges tougher than the fight against poverty, and we need all hands on deck."
Wow. What a caring person. No one's ever talked about poverty before! (Have they?)
About a decade ago, I met an actor, the hot new thing, at an agent's party. He excitedly told me his big idea: A war on poverty! I told him to look up "LBJ," but he earnestly persisted, saying, yeah, sure, maybe LBJ talked about poverty, but no one had ever called for "a war on poverty." See, that was the key -- the war part.
That was a mentally impaired actor. Now a decade later, I'm hearing the same thing from the man House Republicans want to make their speaker.
All of human experience has already taught us how to fight poverty, and it doesn't involve the words "opportunity," "empowerment" or "zone."
Effective: Don't pay people not to work. The 1996 welfare reform act, with its time limits and work requirements, reduced welfare caseloads by an astronomical 65 percent, as former recipients entered the workforce.
Ineffective: Self-flattering politicians jabbering about how much they care about poverty, then creating behemoth government programs that give corporations tax breaks for pretending to help the poor.
Effective: Stop dumping millions of low-wage workers on the country to drive down wages. America's booming, prosperous middle class arose in the 40-year period after immigration was virtually shut down in 1924 -- until Teddy Kennedy opened the floodgates to the Third World in 1965.
Ineffective: Demanding an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor favored by your corporate donors, subsidized by the long-suffering middle class, while strutting around like you're Martin Luther King.