"Give me your tired, your poor...."

Whoo hoo, there’s a big hoo-hah today about Mitt Romney’s comment that he’s “not concerned about the very poor,” which New York Times reporter Ashley Parker admirably pointed out in a lengthy article on page A17, was a gross out-of-context distortion of his actual statement, which in its entirety said something very different:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor.  We have a safety net there.  If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.”

But then, some pages later, in the opening sentence of its lead editorial, the Times did precisely what Ms. Parker criticized:

After two weeks of mean-spirited campaigning in Florida, where the Republican contenders jockeyed for the right-most flank of their party, maybe it should not have been shocking when Mitt Romney announced that he is “not concerned about the very poor.”

Nothing surprising here, as the Times generally assures us that all Republicans are incarnations of Mesopotamian demons demanding human sacrifice, but it does raise an interesting question.  Just how much do we believe politicians when they start crying crocodile tears for the less fortunate?  Are we such gullible simpletons that we actually  take seriously those somber expressions, those quivering voices and those earnest speeches about how deeply they have been affected by their encounters with single mothers of six or ancient couples struggling to get by on their social security?  Really?

I don’t believe a word of it.  Personally, I think any Presidential aspirant with a shred of compassion remaining in their body will likely fail to survive long enough to offend a single  voter.  Of course, this is born of a long experience with grisly choices for chief executives.  Since I came of voting age, this is the menu I have been given:

  • McGovern/Nixon
  • Carter/Ford
  • Carter/Reagan
  • Mondale/Reagan
  • Dukakis/Bush
  • Clinton/Bush
  • Clinton/Dole
  • Gore/Bush
  • Kerry/Bush
  • Obama/I forget

Right.  That’s forty years of largely wandering in the wilderness, with a very occasional bright spot, and I’ll leave you to wonder which ones those were.  Strangely, the most admirable of the lot wasn’t a particularly inspiring leader:  “Poppy” Bush, who at least had the distinction of serving his country in war and nearly getting killed in the process, and then re-upping as a public servant in a long string of thankless tasks, including a stint as CIA director.  He is still roundly hated today by many of our leading intellectuals, possibly because of his impressive resume of tangible accomplishment and achievement.  But he was clearly a very decent man, and that alone makes him stand out from many of the names on this list.  His closest competitor in that department might have been Dukakis, who also at least ties for the lead with Kerry and McGovern as the most feckless.

As for Romney and his disregard, real or putative, for the poor, I would suspect he has actually done more for the poor than anyone else in the presidential sweepstakes, by virtue of the tithes he has paid to his church and the whopping taxes he has actually paid.  While we might carp and squeal about his tax rates, the actual amount of cabbage he has forked over in his career to the federal government must cover a sizable acreage indeed, and we assume that even given the spectacular ineptitude of that same government in distributing assistance to the needy without leakages of Mississippi dimensions into various private spillways and sluice gates, a fair amount of Mitt’s earnings must have found its way into the pockets of the deserving.

Which brings us to a strangely fitting conclusion, tying in nicely with Butler’s somewhat mystifying collection of homilies that preceded this post:  what about the poor?  Jesus famously noted that “ye have the poor with you always,” and despite our awesome prosperity, the vastness of our resources, the astonishing amount of effort and funding we have poured into thousands of programs over all these years, he remains absolutely correct.  Why?  With everything that we as a nation can bring to the eradication of actual ppoverty, why have we failed so spectacularly?

Well, certainly it’s not for lack of effort, or good intentions, or research and study.  The fact is — and may the current President please take note — we can design and fund an Alps of  programs, but between the intent of legislation and its actual implementation lies a vast gulf of detail, where the Devil lies in wait.  There is almost no scheme for improvement that does not founder in some way on the greed of those with fewer scruples than we might wish.  Those who rush to profit from any and all government efforts at improvement have been with us almost as long as the poor themselves.

So — we just give up? Of course not.  But perhaps we might require that our public servants — after they have finished basking in the flashbulbs of the bill signings — actually take some care to ensure that the actions they have so nobly proposed and enacted — pay as much attention to the effective and efficient implementation of their good intentions as they did to crafting the speeches they made to proclaim them.