State, national columnists

Are Republicans cold-hearted toward the poor?

The image of the heartless, Scrooge-like Republican is a staple of the liberal imagination, but does it have any bearing in reality? Recent poll results from the Pew Research Center raise the question anew: They show that 86 percent of self-described “steadfast conservatives” believe that in America, “the poor have it easy.” Just 6 percent of “solid liberals” believe the same thing.

Who is right? Are liberals too soft-hearted, or are conservatives big ol’ meanies? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, debate the issue.

Joel Mathis

Republicans may hate their reputation for indifference to and contempt for the poor. But to borrow one of their favorite phrases: They built that.

It was certainly on display during the last presidential election: When GOP nominee Mitt Romney got behind closed doors, he talked about the “47 percent” of Americans who would rather get federal subsidies than work for a living. (Conveniently, perhaps, Romney ignored that most of that 47 percent does both.)

It was on display a few years back, when the conservative Wall Street Journal labeled poor families “lucky duckies” because of the tax credits they receive to do little things like make sure their children don’t starve.

It was certainly on display back in the 1980s and 1970s when Ronald Reagan – using barely concealed racial code words – breathed fire at the “welfare queens” and the “strapping young bucks” who allegedly used food stamps to buy T-bone steaks.

It’s all a destructive myth.

Studies show that the chronic stress of being poor – yes, even in America – makes many people vulnerable to diabetes, heart problems and other health issues. Other studies have suggested that such stress simply makes it harder to make good decisions or consistently pursue the kinds of long-term goals and behaviors that might lift a person out of poverty. The folks find little official sympathy from the Republican Party and its ilk.

To be sure: There are some conservatives who are concerned with poverty, who believe in free-market solutions to helping people lift themselves out of poverty, and often those folks have good ideas that might benefit everybody involved in the fight against the ills of being poor.

But the Pew survey suggests those folks are outliers.  That’s the kind of thing that would only be said by somebody who has never been poor. And it’s a belief apparently held by the vast majority of Republicans. They earned their reputation, fair and square.

 Ben Boychuk

What a preposterous poll the Pew Research Center people are peddling.

As it happens, anyone can take a shortened version of the poll online by visiting www.people-press.org/quiz/political-typology/. No surprise, I wound up in the “solidly conservative” camp when I answered the 23-question quiz.

But it wasn’t a particularly satisfying outcome. Although the poll’s design allows for a little nuance – a fraction of respondents answered, “I don’t know” – it’s very much an either-or proposition.

On the topic of the perception of poor Americans, here is how the Pew quiz poses the question: “Which of the following statements comes closest to your view? ‘Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.’ Or ‘Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.’”

Both statements are gross oversimplifications.

“Some of those questions are really dumb,” remarked Jason Bedrick, an education policy analyst for the libertarian (don’t you dare call it conservative!) Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. “You can believe that the poor have it hard and that government programs aren’t the best way to help them.”

Precisely. This gets to the heart of the conservative – and libertarian – critique of the 21st century American welfare state.

We see a labor participation rate that’s fallen to a 36-year low – 62.8 percent – even as the unemployment rate has dipped to 6.1 percent. That means millions of Americans who could be working are not. They’ve simply given up looking for gainful employment in a stagnant economy.

In some cases, it’s better to stay unemployed than work because the government benefits are better. In 35 states, according to a 2013 Cato study, welfare pays more than a minimum wage job.

That doesn’t mean welfare recipients’ lives are easy. But it does mean certain government policies have created incentives against the habits – like honest work and maintaining two-parent families – that would make their lives better and more meaningful. That’s a nuance the Pew poll doesn’t quite capture.

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis


Discussion | 54 comments

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 5:36 am

    Funny how the conservative attacks the poll rather than even try to deny that the findings are true. Somebody please correct me if i'm wrong, but the Republicans have earned their labels as heartless, selfish, crotchety, old white guys who don't give a darn about anybody else. Oh, except the wealthy and their corporations. Yeah, that about sums it up. Any disagreement?

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  • Mr. SmithJuly 11, 2014 - 7:20 am

    Ha, ha: Mike, you are too funny this morning. If someone thinks the polling instrument is a piece of carp (and then provides his reasons for thinking that), why would that person bother to defend or deny the "findings?"

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 7:49 am

    Because, mr. S, it's not about a poll. It is about Republicans being selfish old men who don't care about anything but the wealthy and their corporations. I noticed you attacked the poll too, rather than trying to defend the indefensible. Funny.

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  • Mr. SmithJuly 11, 2014 - 8:10 am

    Mike: You need to work on your reading comprehension/concept analysis skills. You "noticed" that I attacked the poll? Really? Wow.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 8:39 am

    Yes, the same as i noticed you still didn't argue against the premise of the article, that Repubs are.cold hearted selfish old men that smell bad. I might have exaggerated that last part a bit. Let's call it "paraphrasing."

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  • Tax PayerJuly 11, 2014 - 5:41 am

    I would say the conservatives are patriots that believe in working your way out of being poor, not sitting on your xxx and waiting for your next welfare program, SNAP loaded card, section 8 housing, Obama phone and all the rest of the freebies that keep you poor.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 8:04 am

    T.P.er, don't you really believe that they are selfish people who try to justify their childish behavior.any way they can, like using those "examples" and even going so far as using out of context quotes from the Bible to help them believe that Jesus would approve of their behavior? Isn't that what you really believe, deep down?

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:32 pm

    TP: Liberals are patriots who believe something else. Drop the "patriot" BS. A patriot is someone who puts country before self. It's both an overused and underused word, and it doesn't apply here.

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  • CD BrooksJuly 11, 2014 - 6:00 am

    Yes, in addition to women, people of color, atheist and gay citizens.

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:36 pm

    Most of whom will be lifelong Democrats thanks to the tone-deaf and clueless Republicans of the Obama era.

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  • Salty DogJuly 11, 2014 - 7:21 am

    Mike. You continue to show us all that you are a liberal and not the independent that you claim you are. You are for big government where it provides for your every need with out having to work for it looks like you want your 40 acres and a mule just like some one we all know. Looks like you would be very happy living on the Government plantation

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 7:43 am

    S.D., as an independent, i am not a repub, obviously, but what, exactly, in that response, makes you think i'm a liberal?

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 8:41 am

    Hello? Mr. Salty?

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:39 pm

    SD: Wow, if that's what you think of Mike, I can see why you disagree with him all the time. But you should go back and check you assumptions.

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  • DanielJuly 11, 2014 - 8:50 am

    The "party of the poor", the one percenters Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters, Pelosi, Reid, the Clintons and Obama despite being millionaires without ever having a non-government job nor business give virtually nothing to charity compared to their other rich peers, they also see that they get their portion of the federal bloated budget of $17 trillion before any crumbs are trickled down to the homeless, hungry and poor whom are mostly being taken care of by private charities. I get nauseated everytime I hear how "charitable " they are with our taxes but most disturbing are the brain dead hacks like CD and Kirchy whom directly worship them like deities or indirectly by only bashing their opposition.

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  • SalJuly 11, 2014 - 9:50 am

    What about the party of the rich, the Bush and Cheney clan which destroyed the future of generations of Americans, and other countries, and reaped personal billions, and left the 99% struggling to keep their lives intact? Any thoughts on that?

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:43 pm

    I admire "one-percenters" who advocate or vote for taxes on themselves. We know charity will never be a substitute for tax-supported programs. That's a selfish conservative myth.

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  • DanielJuly 11, 2014 - 10:20 am

    Sal check what party Soros, Buffet and Gates belong to they like Obama and the Clintons charade like they're the party of the poor but just use low information voters and would like to exterminate us that escaped abortions that they promote for others. They can have the planet to themselves using the fiction for overcrowding and man made global warming. The Demos are the party of the rich special interests and crooney capitalists and CD these are my words not FOX's.

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:51 pm

    Have you been drinking?

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  • JagJuly 11, 2014 - 5:03 pm

    Yes liberals are too soft-hearted, I have no problem admitting we should have a work while you are on welfare program, we should have a basic school system but we should have the choice if you don’t use it you should not have to pay for it, health care is a privilege not a right and no we should not be subsidizing NPR radio so yes everyone should pretty much be paying their own way thru.

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  • Rick WoodJuly 11, 2014 - 10:17 pm

    That’s a lot of good stuff for consideration and worthy of a considered response. We should have a work requirement for assistance a person is able and the work is available. But we shouldn’t let people die just because they are slugs. One of the basic benefits of being an American is we won’t let you die unnecessarily. Subsistence only for the slugs, but that is a right. That includes basic food, shelter, clothing, and health care. If someone wants to take that deal, give it to them and write them off. Give more for those who can’t work, like insurance against destitution. That will distinguish them from the slugs. I agree on a basic school system as a right, but everyone should have to pay for it, use it or not. There should be other public schools that charge tuition to add to the basic funding, as long as everyone has access to a free public school funded to some required basic level. We have defined that level already in California with “Prop 98.” If that makes me a “too soft-hearted liberal” in your mind, so be it.

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  • Rick WoodJuly 11, 2014 - 10:24 pm

    *if a person...

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  • JagJuly 11, 2014 - 11:23 pm

    Rick, we pretty much disagree on everything but so be it, I would like to ask what if someone on Welfare did not want to do an available job, lets say that job was picking produce, should that person lose their benefits?

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  • Rick WoodJuly 12, 2014 - 12:57 am

    Jag: No, but the benefits should be set so that they would not lose them by working either. In fact, I could see a system where they actually get better benefits by working as an incentive to work. The benefits for an able-bodied person who doesn't work should be subsistence-level.

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  • JagJuly 12, 2014 - 7:40 am

    I agree with the second half of your statement, you should be able to work and get some welfare but I don’t think we can allow people to pick and choose what job they want to go to, here is another idea I had, lets retrain after 25 years of age, lets pay 100% of rent food , child care and schooling for two years but pick a good carrier because the tax payer will only do it once and you will not be qualified for welfare.

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  • rlw895July 12, 2014 - 8:52 am

    Probably the only significant difference between us is, at the end of the day, you want to be able to say to some Americans: "Die, you worthless slug." I'd just leave out the "die" part.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 12, 2014 - 9:23 am

    It's funny that none of these rightwingers will openly admit that they are cold hearted towards the poor, the question posed by the article, but will freely discuss various ways to punish them for being poor. I wonder, is it that when they have to think about being cold hearted, they must necessarily bring in Christian values, but when simply talking about punishments, there is no moral framework to consider. Perhaps they are incapable of holding two dissonant thoughts simultaneously. Yeah, that's it.

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  • rlw895July 12, 2014 - 9:57 am

    Mike: Usually it's couched in the idea of "tough love." But what it really boils down to is "die, you worthless slug." That's because at the end of the day, if a person IS a worthless slug and refuses to work in lieu of living off public support, they really believe the person should be cut loose with no concern about what happens. That's supposed to create the ultimate incentive for a person who is able to work. I'm sympathetic to the idea, but if we could discuss it in those terms, honestly, we could decide if that's what we really want to do.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 12, 2014 - 10:10 am

    The problem that i see with that is there needs to be an employer of last resort. One that is everywhere and can provide suitable employment for people of all skill levels and physical abilities with child care. That sounds like the government and so are these rightwingers willing to spend that money, or are they just blowing smoke, as usual, saying that everyone must work, but not giving them the option? In essence, saying, "just die."

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  • JagJuly 12, 2014 - 11:07 am

    I almost fired back at you RW with the post you put to me because I think die is a little harsh but with your conversation to Mike I agree with the way you framed it,,,, It is tough love and if you are an able person you need to contribute, so yes maybe you have to adjust, the employment rate in North Dakota right now is 0% anyone who wants a job can have one so maybe you have to move also you seen my conversation between Rick I have no problem with welfare while you are working that part does need to be changed but at the start of the conversation Mike said (cold hearted republicans) my first post was yes I guess I am one of those, I go to work every day I save for retirement and pay a mortgage so no I don’t want to pay for anyone else and I guess that falls under cold hearted, so sue me

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  • rlw895July 12, 2014 - 11:24 am

    When I say "subsistence," I mean really bare bones assistance. Tough love doesn't go so far as to let someone die. It's still love. We all have stories where it's worked, but if we think about it, we kept adjusting to get the result we wanted without pushing our loved one over the edge into death. Love is not what we feel perhaps for the American slugs (and there probably aren't really that many of them) but they are Americans and that alone entitles them to us not letting them die unnecessarily. So starve them of all luxuries and humiliate them, but don't kill them. I have a hard time squaring what we do to free yacht owners captured by Somali pirates, just because they are Americans, with the idea that American slugs should be allowed to die.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 12, 2014 - 12:56 pm

    I would first get rid of fake human corporate welfare, before cutting real human welfare. Coroprate susidies, tax breaks, wars for profit, depletion allowances, pay for not farming, bank bailouts, purchasing toxic bank assets at full face value,etc. And then start cutting human welfare, if necessary.

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  • JagJuly 12, 2014 - 1:12 pm

    OHH yeah I agree with that too...

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  • Vote for Klingons....July 12, 2014 - 6:09 pm

    they will save us...

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  • Rick WoodJuly 12, 2014 - 7:59 pm

    Just like the Kanamits?

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  • http://thenightgallery.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/those-lying-kanamits/July 12, 2014 - 9:11 pm

    It lurches forward, cloaked in compassion, waiting to consume... My Cara Mia

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  • Jay and the Americans... Cara MiaJuly 12, 2014 - 9:15 pm


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  • mike kirchubelJuly 12, 2014 - 9:17 pm

    "It's a cookbook." One of my favorite lines ever.

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  • rlw895July 13, 2014 - 6:11 am

    Only more like "IT'S A COOKBOOK!"

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  • Tax PayerJuly 13, 2014 - 8:30 am

    hey Mike and your democrat friends like Obama, Reid, Biden, Pelosi, Clinton etc etc etc are not out for themselves? Check their banks accounts and shake your head when they say how poor they are! They have drank the punch for so long they believe that whatever they say folks like you believe them. There are a lot of crotcheddy old white men and women among them also that say they are for the poor and then getting millions from lobbyists for support this belief.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 13, 2014 - 11:51 am

    Didn't know that the poor people had a lobby. Can you be more specific or are you just puffing smoke?

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 14, 2014 - 6:49 am

    I guess our so-called tax payer was just blowing smoke. The thing that really irks me is that even when you call B.S. on someone and they slink away, they don't seem to be capable of learning from that experience. They come right back a few days later with a similar post. Where's the learning curve? I guess that's why they are such loyal Foxophiles, facts don't have a chance to get in the way of their prejudices. Facts are treated as opinions, only of lower standing.

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  • CD BrooksJuly 14, 2014 - 8:08 am

    Mike Kirchubel, you are SO correct here! I asked Daniel to bring evidence for his comments...crickets. Then POOF! He disappears. He will as you say return, while he keeps asking you to respond to his nonsense. Love to debate but c'mon, at least make an effort to understand reality.

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  • tax payerJuly 14, 2014 - 10:29 am

    Hey Mike I believe you have been drinking the punch for so long that you wouldn't believe anything that is factual. Punch on Mike!

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  • rlw895July 14, 2014 - 10:51 am

    TP: Keep trying then, and finish the job here. Mike's right about you slinking away until the next article and we start all over again. It's tiresome. It also means you lose the debate.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 12, 2014 - 2:20 pm

    Jag, the title of the article is about being cold hearted. There are millions of people who would love to have a job, but lack the means to uproot and travel to the Dakotas on the off chance they would find work. The jobs need to be where the people are and there is infrastructure in need of repair everywhere. Also empty homes and homelessness coexist together.

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  • JagJuly 14, 2014 - 9:30 am

    that is why I admit Mike I must be cold hatred in some eyes because you have go to do what ever it takes, yes I will admit you would have to get the resources to make the trip your self but with the internet and phone interviews you can have a job before you depart, also are you suggesting because we have homeless people and empty house that a property owner should rent to them for a reduced rate or a government subsidy?

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 9:25 pm

    I can't tell if Boychuk is for reducing welfare of for increasing the minimum wage. It's certainly true that if welfare beats working, people won't work. But that ignores the many people who work and still get assistance in some form. It's much more complicated that not working and getting "welfare" and working and getting no assistance at all. As Mathis graciously points out, there are a good number of Republicans who have ideas about how to provide assistance without disincentivizing work. Maybe those are among the ones who have actually experienced poverty. The smart Republicans would push those folks to the front on this debate, because it seems most Republicans don't have a clue and the Democrats are eating their lunch on the issue. I'd very much like to try being a Republican again some day.

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 11, 2014 - 9:32 pm

    The selfishness and easy bigotry of the dark side beckons. Resist, Luke. Use the force.

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  • rlw895July 11, 2014 - 10:21 pm

    A wish I will ever be able to fulfill, I don't think.

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  • Nasreddin Hoca ( The Hoja )July 14, 2014 - 8:10 am

    ‘When the axe came into the Forest, the trees said "The handle is one of us"...... because he is one of them?

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  • mike kirchubelJuly 14, 2014 - 8:18 am


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  • Napoleon Hill - Outwitting the DevilJuly 14, 2014 - 8:45 am


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  • rlw895July 14, 2014 - 10:59 am

    I'm a McCloskey Republican. We're mostly Democrats now.

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