A flaw in Republican messaging on charity and poverty

A flaw in Republican messaging on charity and poverty


Back in mid-October, before Joni Ernst was elected to be Iowa’s first female U.S. Senator, Jonathan Chait took her to task at New York Mag for comments she made in regard to charity and Obamacare. I am happy that Ernst won, but Chait’s criticism of her remarks resonates with me as a poor and disabled single mother. Most of my family, and all of my friends, are poor.

Ernst said:

“We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”

“Used to have” is the operative term here. Sure, there are some great food pantries, but she is correct when she says “we have gotten away from that.” Instead of encouraging the wealthy to fight back against the Democrats’ messaging by giving generously to charities, she turns back to the problem in government in saying, “now we’re at the point where the government will just give away anything.” Huh?

That isn’t really true. “The government” does not “just give away anything.” Enough of the Welfare Reform Act is still intact that my 16-yr-old daughter and my 17-year-old son have to work to help pay household bills.  My oldest son is 21 and his job is far enough away that he had to move out of the house to live closer to work. He has his own household bills, working at a factory job that pays $11/hour, and he also has some student debt.  Taking care of his mom isn’t all that feasible because there isn’t a great deal left after he meets his obligations. My 17-year-old son also works in a factory at the same wage as his brother. His job is far enough away that he has to basically live with other family members so that he can be close to work. His car just broke down and he is using a borrowed car to get to work. He needs to save money for a car. Because he is still so young, his car insurance is very high.

My daughter (again, only 16 years old) is giving her entire paycheck to pay household bills. She would like to go to college but we can’t afford that, so she is hoping for a scholarship. She is singing with a public high school chorus so that she can get the teacher’s recommendation for a scholarship. She is also cantor at our church and can get a scholarship recommendation from our music director, plus she has to do her academic work. She is homeschooled so that she can have flexible hours to work enough to help pay bills.  Let’s re-cap: She is singing at a public school (practice every weekday and singing in concerts), singing at church (practice twice a week, plus singing at Mass once a week), going to religious education on Sunday mornings for an hour, doing school work on the weekends and from 10am weekdays until time to go to work at 4pm. She gets off work at 10pm.

I don’t see this as “the government giving anything away.” I also don’t see it as a failed family. We are a struggling, hard-working family. As a disabled person, the only thing that I am really capable of doing is sitting here and blogging in defense of Republicans because I am tired of babies being killed through abortion and tired of everything that I call sacred being redefined in the civil law as “hatred” by feminists and homosexuals. Meanwhile, the Republican Party claims that “government is the problem.” I want government. I want government to fix this crap. I am tired. I am tired of seeing my kids struggle in a world that is going down the tubes.

This is how Chait responded at NY Mag to Ernst’s comments above. Again, though I am grateful that Ernst won, this response resonates with me.

That’s the fundamental belief that motivates most, if not all, the conservative opposition: Health care should be a privilege rather than a right. If you can’t afford health insurance on your own, that is not the government’s problem.

I happen to find this belief morally bizarre. People who cannot afford their own insurance either don’t earn much money, or have health risks, or family members with health risks, too expensive to bear.

All of us non-socialists would agree that there ought to be some things rich people get to enjoy that poor people are deprived of. Access to health care is a strange choice of things to deprive the losers of — not least because one of the things you do to “earn” the ability to afford it is not just the normal market value of earning or inheriting a good income, but the usually random value of avoiding serious illness or accident.

Indeed, very few Republicans have the confidence to make the case openly that the inability of some people to afford the cost of their own medical care is their own problem. But that is the belief that sets them apart from major conservative parties across the world, and it is the belief that explains why they have opposed national health insurance every time Democrats have held power, and why they have neglected to create national health insurance every time they have.

I don’t want national health insurance. I don’t care much if I die tomorrow. I am sick of this world. I don’t want to be in it anymore. I really don’t. But I have to because it is God’s will that I remain in it. For the life of me, though, I cannot imagine how anyone who does not believe in God and who is struggling as my family is could possibly desire to vote for Republicans who say that “the problem is government.” The problem is not government. The problem is that the wealthy are sitting on their money and are only interested in making more money. The wealthy are bleeding Americans like me dry. Do I resent them? Of course I don’t, because I’m a Christian and I don’t play that. But it is really hard to sit here and defend people who think that if they just pass some bill that would roll back the government, that my life is suddenly going to be better. You need to start talking about how people are really hurting and what other people can and SHOULD DO to help them. Otherwise, I have no reason to defend you, particularly if you, like Joni Ernst, Scott Walker, Thom Tillis, Bobby Jindal, Cory Gardner, AND MANY OTHERS, preach about contraception access. You people make me vomit. Literally. Stop it. I’m sick of you. Stop with your ideologically driven theatrics and start talking about putting people to work. Stop catering to the vile elements of society that want to destroy everything that is good and right and true, including the Church’s ability to operate freely. I’m sick of you and your pandering. People are hurting. Really hurting. And I’m not just talking about me. I’m talking about my kids, my family, my friends…………EVERYONE I KNOW. STOP…..and do something that will actually help us all. Or SHUT UP.

If the “wealthy Republicans” would like to be charitable and donate to me, I can stay online and continue defending Republicans. If not, I won’t be able to afford to pay my bills, including internet. I will have to shut it all off. If that happens, I will be emotionally ripe for going and signing up for every penny of your precious dollars Obama and the Democrats are willing to give to me. I’m sick of you. If you won’t defend babies from murder and if you won’t defend the BASIS for family (marriage), and if you won’t call on people to give to charity instead of ONLY telling us all that you need more power to roll the government back, then you are worthless to me. There is no reason for me to defend you if you don’t care about the things I care about.


UPDATE: A tweet from my youngest daughter who is 14.