A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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Poverty (and the systemic causes thereof)

Poverty is the sustained inability to meet basic needs or participate meaningfully in mainstream society due to a lack of money, a lack of social power, or both.1 Poverty is a social disease. It afflicts communities. It afflicts families. It can afflict individuals.

Like cancer, it is near-impossible to trace all of poverty’s various causes. But, like cancer, we’ve got some pretty good ideas on what some of them are. And, like cancer, while you can’t just dump money on the problem to make it go away, we know a lot of things we can do to attack poverty locally and nationally. If we’re not willing to fund the cure or remove the causes, we’re stuck with the disease.

Let’s get concrete. Any area with a shortage of quality public education, of employment opportunities, of public safety, of public services, or of public institutions (whether that means safe parks, civic meeting places, libraries, churches, or so on) is likely to be a high poverty area. By building or expanding any of those things, we can combat poverty. We can also combat poverty by building and supporting local leadership in vulnerable communities. Finally, we can remove blight—and anything causing it. Keep in mind that the thing causing blight could be something like gang violence or could be something like a major national bank foreclosing on homes, uprooting pillars of the community, and leaving empty houses as an invitation to crime. Finally, we can push back against poverty by building community confidence and community wealth. In some cases, this means shutting down the predatory lenders trying to strip communities of wealth. Support home ownership, home equity, and successful, local businesses. In other cases, it means fighting racism or simply working to make a few blocks of a city more attractive. It means knocking down the barriers that prevent people from participating on society. Those barriers can be social, legal, medical, or sometimes simply financial.

When we talk about poverty and politics, I think we should acknowledge three things. First, eliminating—or at least dramatically reducing it—is possible. Second, it is important to do. Third, it isn’t easy.

That’s where Romney gets it wrong. It’s not enough to say, “Eh. I’ll fix the safety net if it’s broken.” A safety net is not a proactive solution to the problem. And if you’re not paying enough attention to what’s happening to notice where that safety net is wearing thin, I don’t trust that you care enough about the problem to address it competently.

  1. I’ll call this a working definition. If somebody can take a better stab at it—go for it. I’ll amend my definition. 

I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor.

Mitt Romney The full quote, for context:

I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.

I’m pulling this quote out because I think it demonstrates two things. First, Romney neither understands nor cares about poverty. To him, a “safety net” is enough. He’s not concerned about why people might need a safety net or about taking any effort to reduce the systemic causes of poverty. Second, Romney seems to draw a distinction between “Americans” and “the very poor.” Clearly, if pressed, he would concede that “the very poor” are also Americans. But to Romney, when he thinks about Americans, it doesn’t occur to him to think about the most vulnerable.

Gingrich, despite his ridiculous and backwards statements on the issue, at least considers poverty something worth being concerned about. For Romney, the very poor aren’t worth considering until something is so broken he’s forced to address it.

It looks like Romney will romp to victory in Florida

While Gingrich had an early lead, Romney’s ad blitz seems to have taken a toll. Gingrich responds to negative ads about as well as vampires respond to sunlight. And Florida is pretty fertile ground both for displaced Northeastern Republicans and people who are old enough to remember why they dislike Gingrich.

But Newt still has one thing going for him. He has a (slim) national lead. And, frankly, it’s going to get a lot pricier for Romney to buy elections as we get closer to Super Tuesday.

A 14% tax rate?

I’m not going to ask Mitt Romney to “apologize for his success.” But … I might ask him to act a little sheepish about his remarkably low tax-rate.

Guys like Mitt Romney are the guys who leave dinner early, leave enough cash to cover their tab, but skimp on the tip. It’s legal. But it’s not something to be proud of.

Just in time to give him a boost, The Boston Globe endorses Jon Huntsman for president.


Whoever gets the Republican nomination could easily become president. Among the candidates, only two stand out as truly presidential, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Both have track records of success, and both, through their policies and demeanors, have shown the breadth of spirit to lead the nation. But while Romney proceeds cautiously, strategically, trying to appease enough constituencies to get himself the nomination, Huntsman has been bold. Rather than merely sketch out policies, he articulates goals and ideals. The priorities he would set for the country, from leading the world in renewable energy to retooling education and immigration policies to help American high-tech industries, are far-sighted. He has stood up far more forcefully than Romney against those in his party who reject evolution and the science behind global warming.

With a strong record as governor of Utah and US ambassador to China, arguably the most important overseas diplomatic post, Huntsman’s credentials match those of anyone in the field. He would be the best candidate to seize this moment in GOP history, and the best-prepared to be president.

Hey, Republican types, is this enough to sway you one way or the other?

I’m not really a Republican type—but I do think this is significant. Romney has struggled to get any kind of traction. As I wrote yesterday, Romney actually got more support in Iowa in 2008 than he did in 2012. Paul is going to have even more trouble getting mainstream support than Romney. And I’m not sure Santorum thinks Santorum is electable.

If Huntsman can pull ahead of Ron Paul in New Hampshire, he could start looking plausible alternative to Romney. It’s still a long shot, though. I’d give him a 20% chance of surviving New Hampshire and a significantly lower chance of winning the nomination.

(via shortformblog)

Numbers that should depress Mitt Romney

  • In 2012 he won with a meager 24.6% of the vote in the Iowa caucus. In 2008 he lost with 25.19% of the vote.
  • He actually had six more voters in 2008 than he had last night.
  • Nobody has ever won the Iowa Caucuses from either party with such a low percentage of the vote.
  • The last republican to come in second place with such a low percentage of the vote was Pat Buchanan in 1996.
  • According to entrance polling, roughly half of Ron Paul’s 21% had never been to an Iowa Republican caucus. These are voters who likely aren’t sufficiently attached to a candidate to line up behind Romney in a general election.
  • Most of the other half of Ron Paul’s 21% was probably Paul’s 10% from 2008.
  • A higher percentage of Romney’s supporters (29%) than any other candidate said they liked their candidate “but with reservations.”
  • Santorum, Perry, Gingrich and Bachmann all polled strongest among people who self-identified as “conservative,” “Tea Party supporter,” or “born-again or evangelical Christian.” Romney polled weakest in those groups. The broadly split vote actually helped Romney.

Republican primary analysis

Gingrich is sliding in Iowa. His moment of relevance is pretty much over. He’d need to win in Iowa—and that’s looking unlikely as recent polls put him behind Romney and Paul.

Romney has seen minor gains—but nothing that suggests an anointing. His supporters are reluctant—and reluctant support can kill you in a caucus.

Paul has a shot in Iowa—but an unexpected Paul win would rally the anybody-but-Paul crowd and play into the hands of whomever finishes second or third in Iowa. (Edit: On second thought, he doesn’t have a chance.)

Santorum has done well recently, which is a bit of a surprise. I predict he’ll challenge Gingrich in the next round of polling—and eclipse him shortly thereafter.

Perry has seen a bit of bump as well, though I think that new support is a result o people remembering why Gingrich shouldn’t be President. I Santorum does well, he could claim it. (“Santorum”).

Huntsman is in a tight spot. But he’s doing decently well in New Hampshire. If Iowa results have Paul first, Gingrich or Santorum second, and Romney third, I think a lot of Romney’s New Hampshire supporters will reconsider their support of Romney and take a hard look at Huntsman.

There are quite a few scenarios where we could see a prolonged, three-way race.

Nobody is illegal

Let me get something out here: I believe that human life is both sacred and unique. Choose whatever bitterly divisive issue you like: capital punishment, abortion, health care, war. I’m pro-life.1 This means both that we should acknowledge and respect other humans and (as a general principle) avoid anything that devalues or dehumanizes others.

Mitt Romney crossed a line for me this morning when he lambasted Rick Willingham Perry’s past stance on “giving that in state tuition to illegals.” Romney, go home already. Nobody is illegal.

Maybe I shouldn’t pick on Romney. He’s not the only public figure to refer to people who lack a legal immigration status as “illegals.” I think it’s disgusting and dehumanizing to refer to anybody as if their very existence is a crime. It’s also misleading. Nearly half of those without legal status entered the country legally but overstayed a visa—which means a civil violation (like speeding or not mowing your lawn in violation of a civil ordinance) occurred rather than a crime. Even illegal entry is a misdemeanor—putting it on par with consuming alcohol as a minor. Undocumented immigrants are patriotic and passionate enough to actually want to be here despite jerks like Romney. Calling them “illegals” is simply a way to make ourselves feel like they are insufficiently human to be treated with a modicum of decency.

  1. Yes, there are exceptions and nuances and conflicts and so forth that we could talk about for hours. No, I’m not going to adequately address capital punishment, abortion, health care, and war in this post. This is a post about language and immigration. 

I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care by giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right.

Barack Obama, sinking the political equivalent of a half-court shot.

Whether or not you like Obama personally or politically, you should be able to admire this manuever. Romney would likely be the most electable of the Republican hopefuls in 2012 … if he makes it through the primaries. With a single statement, Obama has at once demonstrated his willingness to adopt good ideas from political opponents and severely damaged Romney’s chances of surviving the primary.