Give Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul credit. The junior senator from Kentucky actually talks seriously about some of the difficult challenges facing inner-city Baltimore and other distressed minority communities around the country.
Lowering the scandalously high incarceration rate of young black men is prominent on Paul’s agenda. He also wants young people to be able to expunge nonviolent offenses from their criminal records so they can get jobs and make a new start.
Unfortunately, even those limited steps make Paul an outlier in his party. The status of poor people, the working poor and socially disconnected minorities does not register on the radar of most Republicans, including Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and too many of his colleagues have spent long careers catering to the needs of coal and oil companies and conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, who fund GOP campaigns.
Republicans are quick to lecture the non-billionaires about personal responsibility and respect for police, and are even quicker to cut funds for education, food stamps and jobs programs. You do not hear them lecturing the billionaire class, though, for their irresponsible abuse of the environment or their risky financial shenanigans that endanger the entire economy. And you do not hear a peep from them about cutting corporate welfare.
There have been very few Republicans since Jack Kemp who have bothered to offer even conservative remedies for the economic plight of poor Americans. If the issue is addressed at all, it is through more proposals for tax breaks for “job creators” — a tired reiteration of the trickle-down theory in which the trickling down of corporate profits seldom reaches the currently employed, let alone anyone in desperate need of a job.
Let's set aside for a minute this nation’s long history of slavery, political disenfranchisement, economic exploitation, segregation and racist violence directed against black people and other minorities. Let’s just say the criminality, drug use, family disintegration, underemployment and low educational attainment that plague so many poor communities sprang out of nowhere. Heck, let’s pretend racism never existed. Freed of any historical context, the question still remains: What are Republicans proposing that would bring dramatic improvement? (And, not to let them off the hook, what do Democrats propose to do?)
The United States is on the verge of becoming a banana republic with a super-rich oligarchy, a shrinking middle class and a pool of poor people simmering in dangerous and destitute inner cities. You would think both political parties would be vigorously engaged in trying to reverse that trend — unless, perhaps, that is actually the kind of country they want.