Does the powerful Paul Ryan feel empathy?
It’s hard to fight poverty when you can’t feel empathy. According to a report released earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics, for the first time in history, more than half the members of Congress are millionaires. Of the 534 members of the House and Senate, 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012. With all that money comes even more power for the already powerful members of Congress. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, all that power is literally going to their heads.
The study found that as people get more and more power, their brains actually change, affecting how sensitive they are towards others. In an op-ed published in The New York Times this weekend, the study’s authors write that, “...the bad news is that the powerful are, by default and at a neurological level, simply not motivated to care.”
Which, of course, is where Congressman Paul Ryan comes in. Ryan is one of the 268 millionaires in Congress. As of 2011, his projected wealth was around $4.9 million. Ryan is also one of the most powerful members of Congress. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a man with as much wealth and power as Ryan would propose a poverty plan that does very little to fight poverty, misunderstands the root causes of poverty, and totally fails to empathize with the millions of Americans suffering through poverty.
In fact, the entire poverty plan that Ryan released last week is based on the Conservative and right-wing media myth that poor people have chosen to be poor, and therefore need to be motivated - with both carrots and sticks - to change their "in poverty" behavior. For example, part of Ryan’s so-called anti-poverty plan requires low-income families to sign “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success.”
Under this scheme, low-income Americans would be required to sign “contracts” if they want to stay eligible for social safety net programs like food stamps. Those contracts would include benchmark goals like finding a job, getting employment training, and even talking to “new acquaintances outside the circle of poverty.” There would even be bonuses for meeting those benchmark goals early, and “sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract.”
As New York Magazine’s Annie Lowrey put it, Ryan’s very condescending plan to tackle poverty in America, “threatens to punish the poorest and most unstable families for their poverty,” and, “presupposes that the poor somehow want to be poor; that they don't have the skills to plan and achieve and grow their way out of poverty.”
Ryan's plan is, in a word, stupid. But that really shouldn’t be a surprise. Back in March, Ryan blamed inner city men for causing America’s poverty epidemic, arguing that there was a “culture problem” that needed to be “dealt with.”
Of course, Ryan isn’t alone in thinking that poverty is a choice or a lifestyle that some people choose to live. He’s just echoing the views of the right-wing media. All across the right-wing media-sphere, conservatives have consistently blamed poverty on the people suffering through it, even going so far as to suggest that they're somehow not fully human, not like the rest of us.
Back in 2011, Fox So-Called News’ Stuart Varney said that, “The image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor really is not accurate. Many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit.”
In February of this year, Rush Limbaugh argued that, “in many cases, speaking bluntly, the people that don't do well have only themselves to blame.” He added by advertising his ignorance about his own White Privilege by saying that, “The only limits in this country on anybody's advancement is their own limitation that they place on themselves.”
And, during an interview on Fox & Friends, New York Post conservative columnist Michael Goodwin said that “the sense of shame is gone” among poor Americans, which has led to an “explosion of entitlements.”
As much as Paul Ryan, his powerful millionaire colleagues in Washington, and right-wing media pundits might not like to admit it, poverty is far from a choice. Outside of a few mentally ill people - who themselves need services we're not providing them - no one chooses to be homeless. No one chooses to go hungry for days on end.
Today's widespread American poverty - worse here than in any developed country in the world - is a simple symptom of 33 years of failed Reaganomics policies that have helped the the rich get richer, the powerful get more powerful, and screwed over everyone else.
While Paul Ryan and his friends in Washington may not be able to feel empathy, or understand the plight of the millions of Americans who're struggling to survive day-to-day, surely Ryan and his buddies should be able to understand the real causes of poverty in America. Of course, acknowledging that in public would require him to leave the Republican Party, as its policies are responsible for so much American poverty.
And nobody is expecting multimillionaire Ryan to leave the millionaire's and billionaire's Party any time soon. After all, there are still more taxes to cut!