One of the tenets of Christianity, real Christianity and not the American version, is altruism where concern for the welfare of others defines a person’s attitude toward life. There are altruists in America, but they are in depressingly short supply and over the past four years their polar opposites, selfish egoists, have grown in numbers and tout their own self-worth and heap praise on those in their reprobate class. The idea that as Americans, the people have a responsibility to help the least fortunate and assist them to escape their lot in life was never the purview of conservatives or their politicians, but Republicans are actively pursuing policies that target and punish the poor, or purposely keep them downtrodden and pile on misery as a punitive measure for being poor, and it characterizes the GOP and their supporters across the nation.
In January, a Tennessee Republican decided the best approach to help poor students improve their school performance was legislation that cut their parents food stamp allotment as a “carrot and stick” approach to academic excellence. When state Sen. Stacey Campfield first introduced the measure, he said parents living in dire poverty had “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school and accused them of committing child abuse. His remedy was cutting low-performing student’s parents’ TANF allowance by 30% on top of the 20% cut if students failed to meet attendance standards. As it is now, Tennessee ranks second to Mississippi as the stingiest welfare assistance state in the Union with a maximum family welfare payment of $185 per month.
There is a reason children in poverty perform below their wealthier peers, and it has everything to do with being hungry as their parents struggle to provide food on part-time minimum wage jobs if they can find work at all. As far as Campfield’s assertion that poor parents fail to help their children, it is a Herculean task to promote sound academic habits when they struggle to scrape together enough cash to keep a roof over their heads and provide sustenance, so to aggravate an already pathetic existence, Tennessee Republicans punish poor children and their family by reducing the pitiful excuse for temporary assistance because hungry children are not performing in school.
It is well established that Republicans reward the wealthy for no other reason than they are already rich, but why do they persist in punishing the least fortunate Americans instead of helping them claw their way out of poverty? It is because they could not care less that Americans are struggling, and instead of empathy for citizens living a subsistence existence, they promote more cruelty to make their lives miserable and it is not unique to Tennessee Republicans.
It is sad indeed, that in the richest country in the history of the world, one political party claims America is too broke to strengthen anti-poverty programs that are the most miserly in the developed world, and yet have no qualms heaping more wealth on the richest Americans. The Paul Ryan Heritage Foundation deficit-reducing budget includes a nearly 15% tax cut for the rich while slashing domestic programs and social safety nets because “we can’t afford to subsidize the takers” because it burdens the wealthy. The so-called takers, a term Ryan lifted from his heroine Ayn Rand, are already working, if they can find employment, at poverty-level wage jobs and would jump at the opportunity to make a living wage, but no Republican over the past four years has lifted a finger to propose, or support, any job creation bills because they claim America is broke. However, America is never too broke to help the rich.
There is an intrinsic flaw in Republicans that drives them to punish the poor and it is not just in Tennessee or the United States Congress. In every state with a Republican governor and legislature, safety nets, education, healthcare, and the elderly face cuts to fund tax breaks for the wealthy and their corporations. Even in Democratic-controlled states, Republicans float truly Draconian measures to punish the poor simply because they are poor and their supporters applaud efforts to “give losers what they deserve;” nothing. Even in a solid blue state like California, Republicans suggested cutting food, healthcare, and housing assistance to families with children who underperform in schools starved for funding, while affluent schools are lavished with million-dollar artificial turf football fields and Olympic-quality aquatic facilities. The reasoning, if one can call it that, is always that more affluent students deserve finest schools, athletic programs, and extra-curricular facilities because they are “the best and brightest” and have a better chance of achieving success than their underprivileged counterparts.
The purely Draconian Tennessee law punishing poor children by withholding welfare is a growing trend among Republicans to punish children in poverty. Republicans across the nation fiercely advocate for single-celled organisms inside their mothers’ wombs, and yet the minute the fetus draws breath and becomes a human being, Republicans cut the WIC program, TANF, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and Head Start that has nothing to do with America’s spending problem and everything to do with punishing poverty with more poverty. It is the defining characteristic of the conservative, predominately Christian, movement to seek out and discover new ways to kill anti-poverty programs to make life as fragile for the poor as possible and it will get worse.
It appears the long-term goal of the Republican Party, and conservative movement in general, in increasing their assault on the poor and children living in poverty is slow eradication and extermination of an entire generation unfortunate enough to be born during the most extreme and Draconian era in American history short of the Great Depression. It is true Republicans have their hearts set on slowly killing off seniors by robbing them of the healthcare they paid for their entire working lives, but this assault on children is unprecedented in the modern era and is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to snuff out a generation of “under-performing” children whether it is eliminating school lunch programs, cutting food stamps, reducing TANF, or cutting funding for Head Start.
America has the second highest child poverty rate in the developed world, and instead of strengthening anti-poverty programs, Republicans find new ways to literally take food out of children’s mouths and hand it to the wealthy in the form of tax breaks. Little mentioned is the Republican desire to eliminate child tax and earned income credits that kept 10 million American families out of poverty, as well as 5 million children, but conservatives claim it gives the poor no incentive to work or pull their own weight, but to qualify for either credit a taxpayer has to work earning poverty level wages and support their children, so their galling effort is just another means to increase poverty to accompany cuts to food, healthcare, and housing assistance. Further, to perpetuate the cycle of poverty poor children are born into, Republicans in Congress and state legislatures have made slashing education one of their top priorities that serves two purposes; keep poor children ignorant and stuck in poverty, and send as many middle class teachers to join them as they are laid off, furloughed, and lose their pensions to make sure their retirement years are spent in poverty like children they teach are born into.
This week Tennessee Republicans are in the news for punishing poverty-level children, but the assault on the next generation has been ongoing for four straight years and it is still not sufficient for Republicans. The assault on the poor is not solely that money is wasted on children living in poverty, because there is always money for the rich and their corporations, and it is more than providing an incentive for them and their parents to stand on their own and make their own way, because Republicans are killing jobs and cutting education that could assist the next generation to escape the cycle of poverty they are doomed to remain in. It is a measured, well-planned, and long-term attempt to eradicate an entire class of the next generation because they were unfortunate and born into and remain victims of Republican-era economic hell.