Clueless, Heartless, and Gutless: Today’s GOP

Republican brand at risk over food stamps, unemployment benefits, economic inequality, and trust.

Key player:  Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
National Journal
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Ron Fournier
Dec. 9, 2013, 4 a.m.

The most char­it­able thing you can say about the Re­pub­lic­an Party is that it has an im­age prob­lem. Even if you sup­port its policies, no clear-eyed ob­serv­er can deny that on any giv­en day the GOP looks clue­less, heart­less, and gut­less.

Just take today. For all of Pres­id­ent Obama’s prob­lems and their cor­rel­a­tion to the fu­ture of the Demo­crat­ic Party (see: lack of cred­ib­il­ity and com­pet­ence), it takes just four stor­ies to see how much worse things are for the GOP.

“In­vis­ible Child: Dasani’s Home­less Life is a wrench­ing New York Times por­trait of girl stuck in poverty in the shad­ow of Man­hat­tan’s op­u­lence. More than that, it’s the story of our times.

In the short span of Dasani’s life, her city has been re­born. The sky­line soars with lux­ury towers, beacons of a new gil­ded age. More than 200 miles of fresh bike lanes con­nect com­muters to high-tech jobs, passing through up­graded parks and av­ant-garde pro­jects like the High Line and Jane’s Ca­rou­sel. Posh re­tail has spread from its Man­hat­tan roots to the city’s oth­er bor­oughs. These are the crown jew­els of May­or Mi­chael R. Bloomberg’s long reign, which began just sev­en months after Dasani was born.

In the shad­ows of this re­new­al, it is Dasani’s pop­u­la­tion who have been left be­hind. The ranks of the poor have ris­en, with al­most half of New York­ers liv­ing near or be­low the poverty line. Their tra­di­tion­al an­chors — af­ford­able hous­ing and jobs that pay a liv­ing wage — have weakened as the city re­orders it­self around the whims of the wealthy.

Long be­fore May­or-elect Bill de Bla­sio rose to power by de­noun­cing the city’s in­equal­ity, chil­dren like Dasani were be­ing pushed fur­ther in­to the mar­gins, and not just in New York. Cit­ies across the na­tion have be­come flash points of po­lar­iz­a­tion, as one pop­u­la­tion has bounced back from the re­ces­sion while an­oth­er con­tin­ues to struggle. One in five Amer­ic­an chil­dren is now liv­ing in poverty, giv­ing the United States the highest child poverty rate of any de­veloped na­tion ex­cept for Ro­mania.

Writ­ten by An­drea El­li­ott and il­lus­trated by pho­to­graph­er Ruth Frem­son, Dasani’s story is an in­dict­ment of a polit­ic­al sys­tem that is aid­ing and abet­ting Amer­ica’s di­vi­sion by class, where the rich get rich­er, the poor get poorer, and the middle class gets squeezed in­to ob­li­vi­on. Both ma­jor parties are com­pli­cit, but Re­pub­lic­ans, more than Demo­crats, seem es­pe­cially eager to widen and ex­ploit Amer­ic­an in­equal­ity. Take the next story, for ex­ample.

“Rand Paul: Un­em­ploy­ment Be­ne­fits Ex­ten­sion Would Be a ‘Dis­ser­vice’ to Work­ers.” Un­less Con­gress ex­tends the Emer­gency Un­em­ploy­ment Com­pens­a­tion pro­gram, 1.3 mil­lion long-term job­less Amer­ic­ans will lose their be­ne­fits dur­ing the hol­i­days. That’s good news, says the sen­at­or from Ken­tucky who hopes to be the 2016 GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee.

“When you al­low people to be on un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance for 99 weeks, you’re caus­ing them to be­come part of this per­petu­al un­em­ployed group in our eco­nomy,” Paul ar­gued on Fox News Sunday, cit­ing an un­named study. “I do sup­port un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you ex­tend it bey­ond that, you do a dis­ser­vice to these work­ers,”

He’s wrong, and he’s mak­ing the GOP look clue­less. Stud­ies typ­ic­ally cited by the GOP are old and ir­rel­ev­ant to the cur­rent eco­nomy, which is in the midst of a once-a-cen­tury eco­nom­ic shift that makes it ex­traordin­ar­ily dif­fi­cult for some work­ers to ad­just.

Obama and fel­low Demo­crats sup­port the ex­ten­sion but seem un­will­ing to make it a pre­con­di­tion for a short-term budget deal. That means Re­pub­lic­ans will prob­ably get their way, and the have-nots will have less. Mak­ing mat­ters worse “¦

“Mak­ing the Poor Poorer” is an op-ed in The Wash­ing­ton Post by Clin­ton-era Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Robert Ru­bin, Deputy Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Ro­ger Alt­man, and eco­nom­ist Melissa Kear­ney. They ar­gue that GOP-led plans to re­duce food stamps would be “eco­nom­ic­ally and mor­ally un­sound.” Des­pite shrink­ing so­cial mo­bil­ity and dur­able un­em­ploy­ment, Con­gress is poised to re­duce a be­ne­fit that cur­rently amounts to just $1.40 per per­son per meal. It looks heart­less.

“It is hard to re­con­cile tra­di­tion­al Amer­ic­an val­ues of hard work and gen­er­os­ity with the levels of poverty and fear of hun­ger in our coun­try, es­pe­cially be­cause large shares of those suf­fer­ing this plight work,” they wrote. “Nearly 11 mil­lion work­ing Amer­ic­ans had an­nu­al in­come be­low the poverty line last year.”

Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that the food-stamp pro­gram is grow­ing, which they blame on Demo­crats rather than a glob­al eco­nom­ic re­volu­tion and the linger­ing ef­fects of a re­ces­sion rooted in Clin­ton- and Bush-era policies. It most cases, poverty isn’t the fault of the poor. Trust us, the GOP says. And yet …

“The Bogus Claim That Obama Is ‘Clos­ing’ the Vat­ic­an Em­bassy” is a Wash­ing­ton Post story that has noth­ing to do with the eco­nomy but everything to do with trust. Former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ori­al cam­paign com­mit­tee falsely ac­cused the White House of clos­ing the em­bassy. The com­mit­tee went so far as to call the White House anti-re­li­gion, a hate­ful slur. This is what polit­ic­al parties do: Find and cre­ate is­sues that di­vide Amer­ic­ans, ex­ploit our ig­nor­ance and fear, and re­peat.  

The Re­pub­lic­an Party, in par­tic­u­lar, doesn’t have the cour­age to defy ex­treme ele­ments of its co­ali­tion, such as those who pushed the Vat­ic­an-clos­ing story. Bush knew or should have known that the story was wrong. The same goes for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. In­deed, sources tell me that there was some in­tern­al de­bate about wheth­er to launch the at­tack. Level heads didn’t pre­vail. Gut­less won.