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Food Stamp Bashing, Race, and the Bi-Partisan Attack on the Safety-Net

Posted: Oct 22, 2012

 It’s at first a little perplexing why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are the only ones to talk explicitly about poverty in recent debates. The two of them mentioned poverty and low-income and poor people about 18 times in the three debates so far, compared to absolutely zero explicit mentions of poverty or poor people by Obama and Biden. No, 18 is not particularly generous considering the highest rate of poverty in two decades, but compared to their Democratic rivals, the GOP’s looking downright compassionate.

Of course, the Romney campaign’s talk of poor people is not part of a progressive economic vision. Nearly each and every time the Republicans bring up poverty, it’s wielded as an attack on Obama’s economic policy and in support of a conservative, “pro-growth” agenda. The same is true of programs for poor and low-income families. Romney has talked about food stamps eight times in the debates, each time as proof that Obama’s policies have failed. As for Obama? Not one mentioned the hunger-fighting program.

The campaigns’ disparate rhetorical treatment of poverty is worth talking about because it helps us understand what’s happening to safety-net policy. Obama’s acting scared of poverty. He’s all about ladders to opportunity and apparently also about closing the gender gap in earnings. He’ll talk around economic equity issues, but he doesn’t want to talk about poor people, and certainly not welfare and other poverty programs. Why? Because poor people and some of the programs that they depend on—food stamps, cash assistance, housing vouchers— are popularly imagined as people of color issues. And race is one thing that Obama still can’t talk about. Read more here.

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