This week the Census Bureau reported a rise in poverty in the U.S. Well thank goodness we have a healthy battle of ideas about what to do about it. Oh, wait. We don’t. Democrats play the class warfare gambit, pretending that if the rich weren’t so rich, the poor wouldn’t be so poor. Conservatives fall into the trap of only talking only about “the rising tide lifts all boats.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board reports:

The official poverty rate—defined as a family of four earning less than $22,314—rose to 15.1%. That’s up from 14.3% in 2009 and 12.5% in 2007. The official rate significantly overstates poverty by missing government income transfers, but this increase is faster than during any three-year period since the early 1980s. . . .

President Obama inherited a recession, and some increase in poverty was inevitable on his watch. But the magnitude of the increase underscores how feeble the current economic recovery has been, and how essential rapid economic growth is to lifting incomes for lower-income Americans in particular.

The lesson we draw is that politicians who support policies that make economic growth their top priority raise everybody’s incomes even if some incomes rise more rapidly than others. Politicians who put income redistribution above overall economic growth do worse by everybody, especially the poor.

But is that enough? Peter Wehner writes today on the “unremittingly bleak” Census Bureau report, reminding us that “the worst may yet to come” as we see “continued rising demand for food stamps this year as well as ‘staggeringly high’ numbers in those unemployed for more than 26 weeks.”

In a phone interview today, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tells me that it’s not enough to have “the bottom quartile move up proportionally.” He argues that we have to craft policies to allow individuals to move up from one quartile to another. That need to promote upward mobility, he says, is why he has a plan to cut the corporate tax rate on domestic manufacturers from 35 percent to zero. (He also favors repatriating foreign income at a 5% tax rate to be invested in the U.S.; increasing the R&D Tax Credit from 14% to 20% and making it permanent; reducing the regulatory burden that impairs innovation and growth; and expanding domestic energy exploration to create jobs and lower energy costs). He good naturedly tells me, “The Wall Street Journal probably hates my plan! But I grew up in a town where we made things.” He says it wasn’t affluent, but there were “good paying jobs.” The message of reviving domestic manufacturing, he says, is a winner on the stump. “People want to buy things made in America.”

But even that, he argues, is not enough. “Without question the most important thing we can do is to stabilize the family. If we can get fathers back into the home, by any measure children would be better off.” While in the Senate he helped sponsor initiatives to bolster responsible fatherhood. But sometimes what is needed he argues is to lead a discussion and challenge communities. Why aren’t churches and other organizations taking the lead? He jokes, “They’re talking about the cow” (affected by global warming) while they have broken families and kids without fathers. He also stresses that it is critical to focus on education. “Parents are responsible to educate their children,” he says in his stump speech. His goal is to have parents “re-engage” in their children’s education through charter schools, home schooling and other means, rather than promote programs like Head Start that “take parents out of the equation.”

Santorum has been the only Republican in any GOP debate to discuss the poor specifically. In speaking about his efforts to pass welfare reform in the Reagan Library debate, he advanced themes not often heard in this race. It’s yet another example of why Republicans need to focus on the candidates with the best ideas, not the highest poll numbers or biggest campaign chests.