Imagining a conservative conversation about poverty

I saw a remarkable story on the March 19 CBS Evening News about photo-journalist Steve Liss, who has chronicled poverty in the United States. Liss certainly is not the first to do it; photographers Harvey Bristol and Dorothea Lange documented the plight of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Opening our eyes to poverty was important in the early 1960s, when Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America, further awakened John F. Kennedy to the plight of the poor in the U.S.

As I viewed the story on Liss’ photos , I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that so many Republicans apparently are not moved by issues facing the poor in America.

I was thinking about what a conversation about the story between leading Republicans such as Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor might have been like. I can only wonde,r because frankly I’ve never been in a room with conservatives discussing their views on poverty in America.

Would the conversation go something like this?

Person A: Here we go again, the damn liberal media believing the crap about how bad things are for the poor.

Person B: It wouldn’t be so bad if they’d get off their fat asses and get a job.

Person C: People are poor because businesses can’t hire because of high taxes and all the so-called safety and environmental regulations they are forced to live by.

Person D: These damn people take their welfare money and go to the liquor store and then sit around drunk all day.

Person A: I mean it’s true that a lot of these people are poor. But how did they become that way? It’s because they’re so lazy and the government always bails them out.

Person B: Did you see how dirty they looked in the film? They do have soap and running water. What’s wrong with these people; why can’t they get up, take a shower, and put on clean clothes?

Person C: Have you ever talked to one of these people? They show you no respect. And the way they talk; most of the time I don’t even know what language they’re speaking.

Person D: Obama’s going to be speaking about all this stuff we need to do for the unwashed who support him. He’s just trying to foment class warfare. We’ can’t let him and his type fool the American people.

I don’t know how far off base such a conversation would be. Rick Santorum was speaking in Moline, Ill.,  the day before the Illinois primary and said, “I don’t care what the unemployment rate’s’going to be. It doesn’t matter. My campaign doesn’t hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. There’s something more foundational going on here.” He goes on to explain that the “something foundational” is freedom. So I guess that he finds it acceptable for someone to “enjoy” the freedoms of America even if they don’t have a job or the money with which to purchase the essentials of the family.

I feel most fortunate to (a) not live in poverty, and (b) to have a circle of friends and acquaintances who would be disappointed in America upon seeing Steve Liss’ photos. They feel that America should be committed to eliminating poverty in our society.

Is there something that we’re seeing that conservatives don’t? Or is it the other way around and they have insight that we don’t? I tend to believe that most conservatives merely want to protect their own assets and somehow enhance their egos by looking with disdain upon the poor. If that’s the case, then what a shame it is that some of Steve Liss’ audience is blind to the photos that are a gift from him to our society.