By Steve Parkhurst
It’s no secret, I’m a big fan and admirer of Paul Ryan. I’ve said for a while that his years of working with the late Jack Kemp, have helped mold him into a modern day Kemp. You don’t have to search our site long to find examples of this.
Congressman Ryan wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, outlining a few of his thoughts on the 50 years of the failed “war on poverty.” I wanted to take this time to highlight a few passages, though I’d encourage you to read the entire op-ed.
Yet for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. For years, politicians have pointed to the money they’ve spent or the programs they’ve created. But despite trillions of dollars in spending, 47 million Americans still live in poverty today. And the reason is simple: Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation. Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans. On every measure from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class.
Poverty isn’t a rare disease from which the rest of us are immune. It’s the worst strain of a widespread scourge: economic insecurity. That’s why concern for the poor isn’t a policy niche; it goes to the heart of the American experiment. What the poor really need is to be reintegrated into our communities. But Washington is walling them up in a massive quarantine.
On this less-than-golden anniversary, we should renew the fight. The federal government needs to take a comprehensive view of the problem. It needs to dump decades-old programs and give poor families more flexibility. It needs to let communities like Pulaski High develop their own solutions. And it needs to remember that the best anti-poverty program is economic growth.
Other areas ripe for reform include health care, criminal justice and federal regulations. After all, the cultural antibodies that heal communities are already present and hard at work. For policy makers, the question is, how do we spread their influence? What barriers do we remove? What incentives do we put in place? And to whom do we look for guidance—government bureaucrats or community leaders?
For 50 years, we’ve been going in the wrong direction, and liberals want to march on. Some in Washington insist that you’re concerned for the poor only if you’re committed to a path that has failed the poor. But the question isn’t whether we should do more or less of the same. It is which new direction will work best.
That one line, “the cultural antibodies that heal communities are already present and hard at work,” that’s really strong. Think about it. These ideas are things that can lead to that American Renaissance that lies ahead, that we need.