A week ago, I sat in the cafeteria of the local elementary school and participated in a very encouraging meeting. More than 30 people from 15 area churches had gathered to organize a “Backpack Buddies” program, which will provide food for the poorest children to take home on weekends and holidays. The most significant aspect of that meeting was that at least 75% of the people in that room were conservative Republicans.
When Mitt Romney made his infamous comment about not focusing on the poor, he not only infuriated the left. He seriously miscalculated much of his own base and the way they feel about poverty issues. He’s not only out of touch with the reality of life in 99% of America. He is out of touch with a significant portion of his own party.
One of the most destructive myths in our country is that liberals care about the poor and conservatives don’t. The difference between them concerns the role that government should take in providing for the people’s welfare. I know many Republicans who have deep compassion for both the working poor and the destitute, but who believe that churches and other voluntary organizations should be charged with assisting them.
Granted, there are plenty of conservatives who prefer to blame the poor instead of help them. But step inside almost any church, and you will find some card-carrying Republicans who are very generous with their time and money in supporting outreach ministries. They might clash with progressives on issues like abortion and gay marriage, but you’ll see both sides represented on the volunteer lists at local food pantries and homeless shelters.
So what is Mitt Romney thinking? And for that matter, what are all of our presidential candidates thinking (including Obama)? We hear the constant drumbeat of concern for the middle class. And we should. But our candidates need to start mentioning the lower class, too.
It doesn’t take much scratching into almost any community in America to find a deep concern for those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The candidate who understands this first will find his poll numbers soaring.