Last Wednesday, Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted Rosa Delauro, a Senior Congresswoman from Connecticut since 1991. Addressing a small but attentive crowd of students and faculty, Congresswoman Delauro commented and answered questions about her new book, The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable.
In the book, Delauro offers a fiery defense of America’s expanding social safety net, while condemning conservative plans to restrict the total expansion of resources available to it. Her fervency stems from her background. The congresswoman grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, where she witnessed the Franklin Street Fire of 1957 claim the life of a dear friend’s mother. Inadequate safety procedures and blocked fire escapes inhibited the ability of those caught in the flames to escape, leaving many helpless in the face of death. Since that accident, Delauro has made it her life’s work to champion improved living conditions and heightened labor regulations for America’s most marginalized citizens, manifested in her support for an ever expanding welfare state.
As it always goes in politics, much is up for debate over Delauro’s policy positions. However, nothing is up for debate with regard to her intentions and spirit. As reflected in her discussion with Georgetown students, Rosa Delauro means and feels exactly what she says. She sincerely and wholeheartedly cares for underprivileged Americans and will never compromise on her moral support for a truly vital cause, a cause that should weigh on the hearts of every American. Those attending the address were notably refreshed by such passion. However, the question that remains is whether Delauro’s warrior-like defense of the welfare state — on its current path — is truly defensible.
Is it true that the expanse of the welfare state has been among America’s “greatest legacies,” while the official U.S. poverty rate remains virtually the same today as it did in 1967, even with expenditures of over 22 trillion dollars? Is it true that increased spending on the current education system has improved students’ prospects, while scores remain stagnant and college tuition has risen approximately 300% since 1977? Is it true that federal subsidies, in the low income housing department for example, have had no severe economic and social consequences? These are questions worth considering by Democrats and Republicans alike, and yes, both parties are considering them.
Congresswoman Delauro has blamed the Republican party numerous times for its “indifference” to the plight of the poor. This is where I draw the line. It is utterly outrageous to assert that half the country is ambivalent to the consequences of poverty. Poverty is a concern that troubles the souls of the vast majority of Americans, and Republican policies are manifested in this concern.
The most powerful tool for the alleviation of poverty across the globe has existed since 1776. Voluntary cooperation in the free market has allowed misfits and immigrants to develop the most powerful state on earth and continues to do so within developing and wealthy nations alike. By 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith noticed how effective the market had been at producing wealth in the United States — so well, in fact, that it was no longer acceptable to permit any residual poverty. Today, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge the truth in that statement. The age of abject poverty should indeed be behind us. The only difference is how the parties have opted realize that ideal.
Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson did so by launching the War on Poverty, and subsequent Democratic leaders have exponentially inflated his vision for the last 50 years. Republicans on the whole have approached their proposed response differently.
Because Republicans acknowledge the unbridled power of the free market in enhancing quality of life for every class of citizen (after all, there is a reason 91% of Americans are checking their cell phones in the morning while Venezuelans are waiting in painfully long lines for basic necessities) they consistently consider deleterious effects on the market when drafting antipoverty legislation. Republicans do not want to murder the social safety net as a killer does to an innocent victim. Rather, they opt to engage in cost-benefit analysis when expanding or constricting certain programs. Republicans acknowledge the importance of a safety net when it is needed and do not reject the duty and moral obligation of investing in hopeful futures for the less fortunate. Republicans fall on hard times just like everyone else. The difference in thought stems from a short list of principles that all Republicans share:
- When government spending retards economic growth in a manner that negatively impacts those it is intended to help, it is time to revise how that money is spent.
- The social safety net should not grow at a pace that dramatically eclipses the rate of economic growth, or it will cause such negative impacts. Rather, a social safety net should promote growth and mobility.
- Welfare dollars should not be organized and distributed solely by disinterested or self interested bureaucracies. The recipient’s freedom to choose what is best for him or her must be defended.
- The aim of the social safety net should be to best enable poor individuals to participate in the free market and engage in their own individual pursuits of happiness.
These are not evil principles. They are sound principles that promote freedom and hope for individuals and accountability of government. These principles are an extension of core Republican beliefs, beliefs on which all Republicans ought to reflect. Remember, to be a true Republican is to acknowledge the inherent dignity and freedom owed to all of humanity. Republicanism breeds compassion. Rosa Delauro is a wonderful human being. Georgetown was incredibly lucky to have her on campus last Wednesday. But, the assumptions she makes about Republicans are dead wrong.
Sadly, these assumptions are not all that rare, which is why setting the record straight on Republican principles, and how they consider the problem of poverty, must be a priority for all on the Right. I would even venture that it should be a priority for those on the Left, as the desire for a return to productive and respectful dialogue is universal.