Republicans' Compassion

It's said the GOP lacks concern for America's cities, but the party offers programs to empower people, not just fund bureaucracies

IT is by now a hollow and overused mantra for Republicans to criticize policies or politicians because they are simply too "liberal." The real criticism that needs to be directed against many present policies is that they do not work. Not only do they fail to help a large percentage of their "beneficiaries" get off welfare and out of poverty, current policies actually present obstacles to the achievement of those goals.

Another overused shibboleth is that Republicans do not care about poor or working-class people. Unfortunately, the act of criticizing the status quo is too often perceived as an indication that Republicans are not concerned about cities and the people who live in them.

The logic of this view seems to be that, since these policies were intended to help the inner-city poor, anyone who criticizes them must not care.

Republicans must counter that perception with a clear articulation of our urban policies, and we must show that our policies are born out of compassion, not disdain, for those who are caught in a cycle and a system of dependency.

The present system for treating urban problems is too often filled with a self-fulfilling negativism. It leads many people to believe that they can never get out of poverty. They come to view themselves as dependent, and their vitality and hope are sapped, not tapped.

The Bush administration's policies, on the other hand, are designed to free people from a vicious cycle of dependency. Republicans want to empower individuals, not bureaucracies. We believe that personal responsibility, discipline, hard work, and opportunity give individuals the chance to succeed.

This is an infectious point if it is properly explained. It is the American Dream in microcosm. The Republican urban policies of welfare reform and enterprise zones, tenant management and ownership of housing projects, and of urban homesteading, are policies of opportunity designed to foster independence.

Under present law, a welfare recipient who saves over $1,000 loses welfare benefits. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp told the story of Grace Capetillo of Milwaukee, who somehow managed to scrape together $3,000 from her welfare checks in order to pay for her daughter's college education. When her caseworker found out, she was forced to pay a fine of the full $3,000 or lose her benefits.

Smart and compassionate policy would encourage Ms. Capetillo to save. It would create incentives for that kind of disciplined economic activity. We should be helping people like her to find, create, and seize the opportunity that saving, thrift, and discipline provide.

Instead, the message conveyed is spend, spend, spend. Like a government bureaucracy at the end of its fiscal year, welfare recipients must spend every nickel so their benefits are not choked off.

President Bush has proposed allowing welfare recipients to save up to $10,000. The Bush administration has also proposed allowing welfare recipients to take employment without losing income, providing a payment if the recipient does succeed in working his or her way off welfare. This shows true compassion and concern for Capetillo. Preventing her from saving does not.

Similarly, the Bush administration has long advocated the creation of urban enterprise zones, where diminished taxes create incentives for the creation of businesses, jobs, and opportunity. One of the reasons for recent riots in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and for the riots in Los Angeles this spring is the lack of opportunities for urban minorities and youth.

Enterprise zones are designed specifically to help create the kind of incentives, opportunities, and jobs that our present system does not provide. Republicans want to provide these opportunities because, like Jesse Jackson, we believe in the creativity and energy of the individual if only the individual has the chance to succeed.

By providing tax incentives for new businesses, enterprise zones not only provide opportunities, they also cut out the bureaucratic middleman. Enterprise zones are funded through lower taxes, not through checks from overly regulatory bureaucracies.

And in the Bush administration proposal, no tax revenues would be "lost" to the Treasury until a greater amount of new revenue were generated by businesses and individuals taking advantage of these incentives by creating new jobs.

We Republicans must show that we recognize the dearth of opportunities for inner-city youth. We must convey our sensitivity to their plight. And, above all, we must convince America that our policies will rekindle hope and create jobs.

If Americans believe that we have proposed these policies as face-saving measures designed solely to be pointed at when we are challenged, it will appear that Republicans in fact do disdain cities and lack concern for the urban poor.

But if the president can communicate the compassion and concern that he genuinely feels, making it clear that he wants people to have the chance to achieve, and that Republicans have the policies to help them do so, then the country will see that we are the party of change.

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