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Marco Rubio’s (coming) vision of a Republican program to reduce poverty

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is contemplating a presidential  run in 2016, is one of several conservatives who would like to try to convince the country that the Republican Party cares about poverty (in contrast, of course, to the Democratic Party preference for portraying the Repubs as a party that cares mostly about rich people).

The hot political analysis of the moment is that, with unemployment benefits expiring for millions of Americans and with most Republicans opposed to extending those benefits, and with President Obama having declared rising concentration of wealth at the top to be a major theme for his second term, the Dems will do what they can to pound on the Republicans-rich people axis. (The folks at NBC’s “First Read” are calling this theme the “empathy gap.“)

Wednesday, on what is being treated as the 50th anniversary of the 1964 launch of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” Rubio will give a speech on economic mobility and the American dream. He has released a two-minute video previewing the speech (a link to which I’ll include below).

He has renamed Johnson’s “war on poverty”  as the “big government war on poverty.”

The simple version of the argument is that if the various welfare benefits and programs begun since 1963 could solve the poverty problem, poverty should have disappeared by now, and yet, quoting Rubio, “tens of millions of Americans live beneath the poverty line…. After 50 years, isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?”

Instead of welfare benefits, “what’s needed is a plan to help Americans acquire the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty and to pursue the American Dream.” (The term “American Dream” pops up four times during the two-minute video.)

I assume there are details to follow. This is only the two-minute preview. But in the two-minute version, no actual programs are described, only the outcomes the unnamed programs would achieve, namely an increase in “good-paying middle-class jobs” and a decrease in the national debt.

The program would also “save and strengthen” Social Security and Medicare. And, although it’s a new idea to me that this part of any anti-poverty program, Rubio’s program would also “repeal Obamacare.”

It will be interesting to see the details. Here’s the detail-free two-minute version:

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/07/2014 - 11:39 am.

    [Rubio] said in the video it was time for a new social agenda aimed at helping Americans help themselves, a proposal he described as sort of new “opportunity society.” (via

    I seem to remember Bush’s “ownership society” and the resulting destruction of the home financial schemes on ownership.

    So by the same measure, look for proposals that result in fewer opportunities for a climb out of poverty.

    After all, there is no poverty in America, there is no racism, sexism and classism. Regulations only stifle innovation and progress. Businesses are entirely able themselves. Taxes only discourage work. Benefits encourage the lazy 47% to remain “takers, not makers”. The proper incentive for lack of jobs and income is remove governmental supports and the creative forces of survival will be ignited.

    Think of it as an “opportunity” to walk the tightrope of the modern economy without a safety-net.

    It’s an old story


    Mitt Romney framed the 2012 presidential election in a speech here Tuesday night as a choice between an “entitlement society” dependent on government welfare and an “opportunity society” that enables businesses to flourish.

    (end quote)

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2014 - 12:12 pm.

    Any bets?

    Who out there does not believe that the Republican program to end poverty will consist largely of tax cuts for corporations and upper-income Americans, killing Medicare and Social Security in order to save them, and a general disregard for the average Americans whom it is purported to help?

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2014 - 01:40 pm.

    I assume that

    it will be slightly more the the usual arguments that we can eliminate poverty by making the poor more likely to die young.
    I’m waiting for the flames that will ignore the fact that this is the logical consequence of Randian proposals in the light of the economic evidence provided by past attempts.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/07/2014 - 02:34 pm.

    Helpful Hint for the Opportunity Society

    From MInnPost’s Susan Perry, today:


    Low-income people with diabetes are significantly more likely to be admitted to a hospital for hypoglycemia — a potentially dangerous medical condition marked by abnormally low levels of blood sugar — at the end of the month than at the beginning, a new study has found.

    Hypoglycemia-related hospital admissions for higher-income people with diabetes, on the other hand, were found to remain constant throughout the month.

    These findings suggest, say the study’s authors, that hospital admissions for hypoglycemia among the poor are related to the exhaustion of household food budgets late in the month.

    Hypoglycemia occurs when people with diabetes continue to take medication to control their blood sugar levels, but reduce the amount of food they eat. As a result, blood sugar levels plummet, causing such symptoms as sweating, nausea and mental confusion. Severe cases can lead to coma and even death.

    (end quote)

    Hint: pay attention at the end of the month when your neighbor, who’s working part-time at a temp job, tips over from hypoglycemia. Grab the job that’s now open!!

    Opportunity society, baby!!!

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/07/2014 - 02:56 pm.

    War on Poverty?

    … many metrics, the Great Society was a ringing success. Environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Restoration Act caused a steady decline in pollution levels still going on today. Head Start and other education programs gave millions of poor children a leg up in school, while Medicare, Medicaid, and increased Social Security benefits reduced poverty rates among the elderly from 28 percent in 1965 to 11 percent in 1996…..

    …….It included the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which expanded college loan programs), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well as moral triumphs like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act. The list of Great Society targets included product safety, the arts, water pollution, and truth in packaging, among literally hundreds of others. Few would call these efforts failures….

    …. for all its flaws, the War on Poverty was hardly a failure. Between 1965 and 1970, the number of poor Americans fell from 33 million to 25 million (despite the 1969–1970 recession). Incomes for poor African Americans rose dramatically, as did high-school graduation rates, while infant mortality dropped. After writing several books examining every aspect of the War on Poverty, political scientist Sar Levitan, in an article with Robert Taggart, concluded, “As a result of Great Society civil rights and other initiatives, blacks made very substantial gains on a number of fronts during the 1960s.”….

    ….In fact, the War on Poverty’s biggest failing was not overcommitment, but a lack of funds. While many experts at the time said that a substantive attack on poverty would cost in the range of $30 billion a year, Congress repeatedly authorized about $2 billion, with heavy restrictions (in part because of conservative opposition, but also because of the costs of the Vietnam War). More important, however, was the fact that many promising programs did not last long enough to have full effect. Although Richard Nixon at first maintained and even, in some limited ways, expanded War on Poverty programs during his first term, he did so largely to peel off moderates in the upcoming 1972 election. After his decisive win that year, he cut viciously. Predictably, by mid-decade, poverty-rate declines flattened, then reversed….

    All from

    So a 50 year old program is to blame for the ills of society? It wasn’t ended under the Nixon era?

    LBJ’s program continued unabated, unstopped and unchanged through the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations?

    And now Rubio is stepping up bravely now to take on the war on poverty? 50 years later?


    Talk about beating a dead horse!

    What next, attacks on the policies of the perfidious Whigs?

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 01/07/2014 - 05:23 pm.

      Neal, indeed as you point out

      The Great Society accomplished much. But I agree with Mr Rubio that it fell far short. My critique of the liberal position is that it basically adopts what was a tactical move of concentrated wealth in the 1930’s – support limited redistribution of wealth thru political mechanisms to diffuse efforts to democratize the economic and political system. Great Society actions did produce some structural change, but primarily institutionalized a heightened level of redistributionism. To my view, the flaw in liberalism is that it advocates for ongoing redistribution rather than, more radically, for the restructuring of economic and political systems that would in fact create opportunity and make redistribution much less necessary. Of course, my reference to Mr Rubio was facetious. He doesn’t want democracy, just more folks cattle-prodded into the labor force and an even more gossamer safety net.

      • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/07/2014 - 07:26 pm.

        That’s not what liberals want

        But when you have to split differences with conservatives, barely enough to not starve is the best you can get.

        And conservatives, if you were serious about programs to train people in skills that would make them more employable, liberals would be all for it. We wouldn’t even demand the spending be off-set. So prove you’re not bluffing.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/07/2014 - 08:02 pm.

        The flaw in liberalism. . .

        I’d like to hear what Great Society programs institutionalized a heightened level of redistributionism.” I can’t say I disagree but I’d like to understand what you base this view on. And I’m not sure what “ongoing redistribution” you’re referring to unless you mean from the bottom to the 1%. What I mean is that I don’t think any Great Society “redistributed” much of anything to anybody and anything that occurred afterward only crippled whatever Great Society programs were ever implemented during Johnson’s short presidency.

        I can’t speak for all but I’m sure that many who are labeled as “liberal” advocate restructuring of economic and political systems to create opportunity and bring about redistribution of wealth, excessive concentration of wealth among a few being seen in itself as inimical to the health and well being of a representative democracy.

        I completely agree with your facetious comment about Mr. Rubio and “cattle prodding” more folks into the underpaid, if not slave, labor force. I’ve been reading a very interesting book by an historian Eric Foner, on Reconstruction after the Civil War. Foner excellently documents how the “free labor” movement was subtly converted from an anti-slavery movement into a “”labor for free” movement in which the Northern capitalists adopted the same attitude toward workers and labor that the aristocratic plantation owners held toward their slave labor before the War. That evolution for the Republican Party-the party of Lincoln, into a Party which stands for restoration of slave labor for the capitalists can be seen in today’s Republican Party and its faces like Marco Rubio’s.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 01/08/2014 - 10:29 am.

          Jon, the limits of my time & this format

          Prevent my responding with the specificity or rigor that you’d like. But in broad sweep, what I endeavored to say is that on the surface, the Great Society was about expanding opportunity and inviting more of society to participate in the economy, but that underneath, the structures to foreclose economic and political democracy were moving tectonically (cf. “Society of the Spectacle (1967)”). The invitation to participate came with the implied condition not to question those structures, and those that did question them too pointedly (e.g., black militants, certain elements of the anti-war movement) were summarily ejected from polite society.

          I don’t disagree with your semantics as to the direction of “redistribution,” but I think of the expansion of economic rights (e.g., housing, education & jobs programs) and environmental laws, for example, as redistributionist – while, critically, not threatening the basic structure that enables the few to extract rents from the many, and to use those rents to undermine political democracy in the long run and define the realm of acceptable public discourse to insulate the structure from critical inspection.

          At that time, without immediate limits to growth, all boats could rise even though the boats of a few were rising much higher. But the conditions of economic and political non-democracy that we have today, that may be irrevocable, and that are the largely unrecognized root of the resentments and alienation that fuel our present toxic and trivialized social and political life, were building their momentum during the Great Society (though as you & Mr Foner suggest not brand new), were carefully unimpeded by the Great Society agenda, have advanced logically and unabated since, and are almost never critically examined in the liberal discourse, which I would say in my adult lifetime has been focused on palliative care rather than cure.

          • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/08/2014 - 11:44 am.


            I think I can agree with your qualification of what was”redistributionist” about Great Society Programs which left the basic rent-extracting structure untouched. The word “redistributionist” is not easily defined and can easily obstruct dialogue and thought unless it is better defined. You’re quite right that root causes of the conditions sought to be addressed by the Great Society were unimpeded and have advanced unabated since.

            Thank you for the thoughtful response. It’s too bad the limits of time and format don’t allow broader discussion of these topics.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2014 - 08:00 am.

        The depth of anger of the GOP (children of the Dixiecrats) toward the efforts to form an “inclusive” Great Society are revealed in the current attempts to dismantle virtually all of the programs initiated under LBJ’s administration. Disenfranchising is the game of today–but today it is tilted more to empowering the moneyed class to overcome the disadvantage of votes not being in proportion to wealth. The tactic of this disenfranchisement is the old bugaboo of the alien (not people like us!) that is disturbing the way things should be.

        Not enough? Not enough teeth? LBJ was the only person capable of forwarding the goals of the Great Society? There is no responsibility on subsequent office-holders or voters?

        You make the future with laws you can pass, nullify, allow to lapse, defund or choose not enforce.

        A better world is always possible.

        Sure, your grandfather may have determined where you started–but a large portion of where you are now is the result of other circumstances.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/08/2014 - 07:56 am.

    Anyone interested in politics

    is wasting their time following the fortunes of Marco Rubio. He’s pretty much persona non grata with the movement and has no chance of getting the 2016 nomination.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2014 - 09:22 am.

      Certainly–he’s a traitor on the immigration issue.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/08/2014 - 09:35 am.

      Well, one out of two

      which is better than usual.
      He may not be acceptable to the 5% who are hard core TPers, but he will be acceptable to the rest of the party if he looks like he can appeal to ‘moderates’ in both parties and thus stand a chance of actually winning an election, rather than going down in glorious flames.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/08/2014 - 11:22 am.

        Don’t be so sure

        The hard-core TPers* are the ones who vote in the primaries and go to caucuses. They are the ones who get to pick the nominees. Of course, they are also the geniuses who think Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because he wasn’t conservative enough. The moderate, sane voices, who know what it takes to win an election, are out of the picture.

        *I always thought of “TPers” as raucous juveniles who spread bathroom tissue in trees. I suppose that’s an apt description of the tea party.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/08/2014 - 03:10 pm.

          From what I’ve read

          The remnants of the mainstream Republican apparatus are trying to reclaim the party.
          The hard core TPers can still turn out reliable numbers, but not enough to win an election. At least some conservative Republicans are tired of losing.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/08/2014 - 05:13 pm.

            Good luck to them

            The Republican Party has taken a hard turn to the right over the last several years. The differences between the hard core TPers and the mainstream are largely differences of style, not substance.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 01/09/2014 - 08:05 am.

            I hope you’re right, Paul…

            It would be nice to see the party return to the realm of reality. However, if the tenor of comments at such places as Redstate or Hotair are any indication, the mainstream of the party has its work cut out for them. The howls of indignation at a relatively benign comment from Scott Walker regarding infighting within the GOP was both amusing and frightening. They were ready to disown him just as quickly as Rubio and they seem quite content to primary anyone that doesn’t fit their definition of conservative purity.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/09/2014 - 01:26 pm.

              I see

              the Roadrunner chasing Wiley Coyote.
              The Roadrunner turns left.
              The Coyote turns right and goes over the cliff (cue falling anvil).

              • Submitted by jason myron on 01/09/2014 - 03:52 pm.

                That seems to be the scenario…

                As a Dem, I’m quite content to send them another box from the ACME company and watch the rising dust cloud from atop the cliff.

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