Thou Shalt Hate the Poor

Apparently there is a new commandment that has been revealed unto the Republican Party. One that Jesus errantly left out of his parables and teachings and that Joseph Smith must have failed to read before he lost his special glasses or perhaps just forgot to pull out of his magic hat. It is “Thou shall hate the poor.” This new commandment dominates today’s conservative politics and discourse, reveals the turmoil at the heart of America’s public morality and shows the clear ideological choice before us.

As Herman Cain reminded us not too long ago, “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, it’s your fault.” Mitt Romney declared that he “doesn’t care about the very poor,” because there is a safety net for them and like the very rich, they are O.K. And who could forget screams of approval from a Republican debate audience at Ron Paul’s proposition that a sick but uninsured man be left to die.

Newt Gingrich, though he has had inordinate trouble with the adultery commandment, has done his best to hate the poor in a particularly race-tinged fashion. In between calling for the negation of child labor laws, so that poor children could make money and learn the value of hard work, he has said that if invited, he would go to the NAACP conference and talk about “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

In the publicly projected modern conservative Weltanschauung, all that is needed to become fabulously wealthy is to work hard. Wealth alone is evidence of the deservingness of those who possess it. They should be idolized and defended against the class warriors who seek to impose the travesty that tens of millions of dollars a year in investment income should be taxed at a higher rate than Mitt Romney’s infamous 13.9 percent. They are a Praetorian Guard standing alone against the moocher class of welfare queens, single moms and the lazy unemployed who would suck the government teats until the beast was dry.

Except that it’s a false narrative that hides behind many inaccuracies. The safety net hasn’t permanently expanded beyond effective temporary stimulus spending, and an economic crisis has pushed many more into its arms. And the taxpayer largesse the Republicans speak of is the $4.22 a day per person that is the maximum amount of cash assistance a family of four can (temporarily) receive.

When they point their fingers, they point them at one sixth of our entire population that relies on a federal anti-poverty program, and the 21 percent of all children living below the poverty line. Yet for some, to be unemployed or poor is not to be at the behest of global economic forces, it is a personal sin of monumental proportions.

What the candidates completely leave out of the picture is the plight of the working poor. Twenty-five percent of workers earn wages inadequate to keep a family of four out of poverty. The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that nowhere in the U.S. can a family obtain housing at a reasonable 30 percent of income with wage earners working middle wage jobs–in the cheapest state, South Dakota, that would require 1.6 jobs. Here in Massachusetts, it’s 2.9.

The grand irony in the midst of this is how self sanctimoniously “Christian” each of the Republican candidates claims to be. This article is not about proselytizing, but as a Christian who feels shamed and disgusted by the religious right, I feel a need to point out that there is no way this bellowing pack of hypocrites could have read the book they are so eager to shove in everyone else’s face. Because Jesus would have pointed his finger straight back at them and said J’accuse, just like he did to their Roman-era counterparts. The itinerant wanderer who owned little, lived with and associated with the destitute, the outcast, the prostitutes and the otherwise unclean, while condemning wealth and exalting the poor would have had a harsh message for Mitt Romney and his ilk, who have done just the opposite.

But instead politicians like Rick Santorum are content to condemn Obama for a faith based on a “phony theology” while continuing to spread their own ideology of hate, division, gross inequality and militarism–an ideology that in the long run will only make our nation weaker. For all the controversy surrounding him, the political science giant Sam Huntington wrote that the decline of a civilization happens when “the social groups controlling the surplus have a vested interest in using it for nonproductive but ego-satisfying purposes,” and not reinvestment in society, in people and in greater production.

We haven’t just forgotten how to dream; we have forgotten that we are even supposed to. We have forgotten the purpose of a society, the purpose of an economy and the purpose of our political process and in our lapse have allowed their usurpation. For once, this goes beyond the conservative–liberal divide. Though I may disagree with specifics, I will readily acknowledge and respect diverging views on how to solve our myriad of problems — as long as the vision is still one of progress, uplift and compassion. But from those who deny such a vision entirely, all Americans, regardless of their policy preferences, should demand better.