Changing the anti-poverty narrative

In the latest edition of National Review Online Jennifer Marshall has an article about how, even though the anti-poverty policies put in place over the last half a century were hardly a success, those pushing such policies have dominated the anti-poverty narrative.  She thinks that conservative policies could work better, but conservatives have not succeeded in weaving those individual policies into a overall anti-poverty narrative:

A half century into the War on Poverty, liberals can hardly declare victory. But they can claim the dominant anti-poverty narrative: Americans seldom look to conservatives for answers to the problems of poverty.

That’s not to say we don’t have answers. To the contrary, we’ve had important successes. The 1996 welfare reform rises to the top. School choice, which allows low-income parents to get their children out of failing and often violent public schools, is another example.

But we’ve made precious few attempts to string these single notes together into something larger.

Here is how she characterized the task ahead and what is being done to address the matter:

We have yet to popularize a competitor to the prevailing tune about how to meet the needs of our neighbors: the one that says to fight poverty by spending more, by starting another federal program.

And so about 90 leaders gathered last week for an anti-poverty conference hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. They included policymakers and policy-implementers, researchers and program evaluators, service providers and ministry leaders, representatives of philanthropy networks and communicators. Fourteen leaders of state welfare agencies participated.

Our objective is to help more Americans escape poverty by promoting work, marriage, civil society, and welfare-spending restraints.

The core of there vision was expressed as follows:

We share a commitment to principles deeply related to the flourishing of all Americans. Evidence and experience testify to it. Marriage reduces the probability of child poverty by 80 percent. Work-based welfare recognizes that personal responsibility is essential to human dignity. If these realities are not yet widely understood, we owe it to all our neighbors to make that message clearer, appealing to their best intentions and their best interests. Justice and compassion demand that we do not just walk away.

A single mother on welfare may reflexively accept liberal policies. But if we believe that long-term government dependency doesn’t do justice to her dignity, we ought to be able to explain that in a way that taps into her aspirations for a better future — particularly for her children. Anyone who thinks that’s not possible should consider how low-income parents have clamored for school choice.

The article went on to detail the “Big C’s” that conservatives need to conquer in order to advance a conservative agenda to fight poverty.  Those are Communication, Content, Courage, Credibility and Critical Mass.  Creating a conservative narrative of how best to effectively fight poverty and promote opportunity is a worthwhile goal that could be adopted to the struggle for freedom here in Vermont.