In advancing a conservative agenda to fight poverty, we’ve got five Big C’s to conquer:
Communication. We are being defeated by straw men in the poverty debate. If we don’t talk in our own terms about overcoming poverty, our opponents will caricature our position. Conservatives need to go on offense, explaining why the welfare state has not done justice to the poor and pointing the way to upward mobility. That means communicating facts and stories in every possible venue — from op-eds to congressional hearings and town halls to state agency press releases.
Content. Conservatives need to offer a concrete description of our near-term objectives: We want to build on the success of the welfare reform of 1996, which reformed just one of 80 federal means-tested programs that in total are now funded to the tune of $1 trillion annually. We seek to secure the safety net for those truly in need — and to ensure that it encourages work and marriage rather than long-term government dependency. And we look to civil society to transform lives and communities and restore the path to upward mobility.
Courage. Policymakers need conviction, coupled with the confidence that comes from being equipped with the facts and seeing firsthand the life-changing alternatives to the status quo. They need to meet the former addicts restored through Jubal Garcia’s work at Victory Fellowship in San Antonio, or the couples who have built healthy marriages thanks to Bishop Shirley Holloway’s House of Help/City of Hope in Washington, D.C.
Credibility. Showing up, learning, and listening are top priorities. When the Republican Study Committee launched an anti-poverty initiative this fall, their first order of business was to hold a summit where they listened as neighborhood leaders from across the country — Jubal and Shirley among them — told of challenges and successes in exercising effective compassion.
Critical mass. We need others to join in to begin to change this tune. At The Heritage Foundation, we’re committed to linking arms with a growing coalition of leaders to build a conservative anti-poverty movement.
Our challenge is to sound the notes that ring true to human need, to arrange them in a way that reminds listeners of what human dignity demands, and to make the music compelling enough for others to join in.