Paul D. Ryan, the former House speaker, is out with a couple of ads for his American Idea Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty. The longer of the two is worth reviewing in full:

A few preliminary observations are in order.

The overwhelming number of people in poverty who are pictured in the ad are African American. It is true that the rate of poverty among African Americans is more than double the poverty rate among non-Hispanic whites (although lower than the poverty rate among Native Americans), but over 40 percent of those in poverty are non-Hispanic whites. Part of the problem Ryan might start with is the false perceptions that poverty is a black problem and/or that most blacks are in poverty (80 percent are not).

Second, Ryan shows some images of immigrants and speaks about the land of opportunity. I fail to see how he could so assiduously defend a president who dehumanized immigrants, refused to put DACA recipients on a path to citizenship and ripped children from their parents to put in cages. Having a racist, xenophobic president is contrary to Ryan’s message, yet he has never repudiated President Trump or his message. He sure did not try to block it.

That brings us to substance. “Freedom” as the methodology for solving poverty is not the “fact-based” approach he says he wants. Unemployment is at an all-time low while poverty persists, income inequality is huge, and — wouldn’t you know — tax cuts go primarily to the rich, and corporations do nothing for those in poverty. That tax cut provided only fleeting stimulus but did create a huge debt, which becomes an excuse not to fund effective anti-poverty efforts. Why did Ryan not support, instead of Trump’s tax cut, a massive increase for the earned-income tax credit? Indeed, the entire GOP agenda, frozen since 1980, and based on a flawed supply-side economic theory, has not helped solve poverty, but it has helped increase the already wide income divide.

“Freedom,” as presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg says, is not only freedom from government. If your health care is taken away because Republicans repealed the Affordable Care Act with no reasonable alternative, you are not freer, and people in poverty are not helped by red states refusing to expand Medicaid or Republicans seeking to limit Medicaid funding in the future.

If a rising tide raised all boats, Ryan would not be puzzling over persistent poverty. He might at least recognize that far more government intervention is needed (even if in a public-private partnership) to tackle poverty. If he is going to recycle the same conservative dogma without input from the left and center, this will be a wasted opportunity.

I would hope his foundation would consider a whole lot of questions relating to poverty:

  • Do the work requirements for Medicaid preferred by Republicans increase or decrease poverty?
  • How does mass incarceration affect poverty? What impact on poverty would legalization of marijuana and expunging the record of those in prison for minor drug offenses have?
  • By changing labor rules to make fewer people eligible for overtime, did the administration diminish or increase poverty?
  • Does denying climate change disproportionately impact people in poverty? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)
  • Is there any evidence charter schools improve educational outcomes for children in poverty?
  • Does easy access to guns contribute to poverty?
  • In locales where the minimum wage increased, did poverty decrease?
  • Does bias in application of school punishment disproportionately affect children in poverty?

I am not suggesting the 1970s centralized welfare state model has the answers. Hardly. But I would hope Ryan is open to the conclusion that a great deal of the current GOP’s preferred agenda makes poverty worse, or at least does not help address the problem. I would hope he and his colleagues understand that proposals, for example, to expand access to mental health and/or subsidize child care — issues that Republicans have largely been unwilling to fund — may have the most positive direct impact on people in poverty.

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