We're all called to respond to poverty

Published on Sunday, 2 February 2014 22:38 - Written by

If there’s one charge being made against the Tea

Party movement that has some merit is that it’s

not offering a clear alternative vision. The movement

makes it easy to vilify constitutional conservatives

as waging a war on the poor or on women.

But now the American Enterprise Institute’s

Arthur C. Brooks has stepped forward with the most

clear and most concise explanation of that alternative

vision that anyone’s offered in a generation.

Quoting the book of Deuteronomy, he lays out

how Americans should “Be Open-Handed Toward

Your Brothers.”

“When wealthy liberals attempt to demonstrate

their own charitable bona fides by insisting that

taxes should be raised, conservatives seethe,”

Brooks writes in Commentary magazine. “It is easy

to be generous with other people’s money, and the

idea that support for higher taxes is a mark of good

character badly confuses intentions for effective action.

This is a moral framework built not around altruism,

but sanctimoniousness.”

But it’s not enough to criticize that liberal framework.

Brooks noted that “The lack of a positive plan

makes it feasible for a president whose own tenure

has proven disastrous for the poor to assail his Republican

opponents with these extraordinary words:

‘Their philosophy is simple: You’re on your own.’”

There are conservative responses to poverty and

joblessness. They’re valid and workable — if only

they can be articulated.

“What, then, do poor people say they truly need

to lead prosperous and satisfying lives?” Brooks

asked. “The real answer is both simple and profound.

They need transformation, relief, and opportunity

— in that order. On these three pillars,

conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can

build the basics of the social-justice agenda that

America deserves.”

Transformation has many dimensions. Elements

include “faith, family, community, and work,” Brooks

explains. Not every element must be present in every

life for transformation, but those pillars have proven,

throughout history, to be important.

“To be sure, many of our poor neighbors lead

happy, upright lives full of faith, family, community,

and fulfilling work,” he said. “But to deny that these

are disproportionately missing in poor communities

today is to shove aside the facts and ignore an undeniable

if inconvenient truth.”

Next is relief. Conservatives give generously and

willingly when they see need. They also support government

safety nets, such as food stamps and Social

Security. Indeed, they want to rein in spending to

preserve these programs – to protect them from insolvency.

And a conservative response to poverty must include


“An opportunity society has two basic building

blocks: Universal education to create a base of

human capital and an economic system that rewards

hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility,”

Brooks said. “So opportunity conservatism

must passionately advance education reform and relentlessly

defend the morality of free enterprise.

This is the vision that conservatives must communicate.

As Brooks explained, “This is our fight, and it is a

happy one. After all, as Proverbs 14:21 reminds us,

‘He that despiseth his neighbor, sinneth: but he that

hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.’”