Clueless, Heartless, and Gutless: Today's GOP

Republican brand at risk over food stamps, unemployment benefits, economic inequality, and trust.

Key player:  Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (National Journal)

The most charitable thing you can say about the Republican Party is that it has an image problem. Even if you support its policies, no clear-eyed observer can deny that on any given day the GOP looks clueless, heartless, and gutless.

Just take today. For all of President Obama's problems and their correlation to the future of the Democratic Party (see: lack of credibility and competence), it takes just four stories to see how much worse things are for the GOP.

"Invisible Child: Dasani's Homeless Life" is a wrenching New York Times portrait of girl stuck in poverty in the shadow of Manhattan's opulence. More than that, it's the story of our times.

In the short span of Dasani's life, her city has been reborn. The skyline soars with luxury towers, beacons of a new gilded age. More than 200 miles of fresh bike lanes connect commuters to high-tech jobs, passing through upgraded parks and avant-garde projects like the High Line and Jane's Carousel. Posh retail has spread from its Manhattan roots to the city's other boroughs. These are the crown jewels of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's long reign, which began just seven months after Dasani was born.

In the shadows of this renewal, it is Dasani's population who have been left behind. The ranks of the poor have risen, with almost half of New Yorkers living near or below the poverty line. Their traditional anchors — affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage — have weakened as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.

Long before Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rose to power by denouncing the city's inequality, children like Dasani were being pushed further into the margins, and not just in New York. Cities across the nation have become flash points of polarization, as one population has bounced back from the recession while another continues to struggle. One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.

Written by Andrea Elliott and illustrated by photographer Ruth Fremson, Dasani's story is an indictment of a political system that is aiding and abetting America's division by class, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class gets squeezed into oblivion. Both major parties are complicit, but Republicans, more than Democrats, seem especially eager to widen and exploit American inequality. Take the next story, for example.

"Rand Paul: Unemployment Benefits Extension Would Be a 'Disservice' to Workers." Unless Congress extends the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans will lose their benefits during the holidays. That's good news, says the senator from Kentucky who hopes to be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee.

"When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy," Paul argued on Fox News Sunday, citing an unnamed study. "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,"

He's wrong, and he's making the GOP look clueless. Studies typically cited by the GOP are old and irrelevant to the current economy, which is in the midst of a once-a-century economic shift that makes it extraordinarily difficult for some workers to adjust.

Obama and fellow Democrats support the extension but seem unwilling to make it a precondition for a short-term budget deal. That means Republicans will probably get their way, and the have-nots will have less. Making matters worse "¦

"Making the Poor Poorer" is an op-ed in The Washington Post by Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, and economist Melissa Kearney. They argue that GOP-led plans to reduce food stamps would be "economically and morally unsound." Despite shrinking social mobility and durable unemployment, Congress is poised to reduce a benefit that currently amounts to just $1.40 per person per meal. It looks heartless.

"It is hard to reconcile traditional American values of hard work and generosity with the levels of poverty and fear of hunger in our country, especially because large shares of those suffering this plight work," they wrote. "Nearly 11 million working Americans had annual income below the poverty line last year."

Republicans argue that the food-stamp program is growing, which they blame on Democrats rather than a global economic revolution and the lingering effects of a recession rooted in Clinton- and Bush-era policies. It most cases, poverty isn't the fault of the poor. Trust us, the GOP says. And yet ...

"The Bogus Claim That Obama Is 'Closing' the Vatican Embassy" is a Washington Post story that has nothing to do with the economy but everything to do with trust. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican senatorial campaign committee falsely accused the White House of closing the embassy. The committee went so far as to call the White House anti-religion, a hateful slur. This is what political parties do: Find and create issues that divide Americans, exploit our ignorance and fear, and repeat.

The Republican Party, in particular, doesn't have the courage to defy extreme elements of its coalition, such as those who pushed the Vatican-closing story. Bush knew or should have known that the story was wrong. The same goes for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Indeed, sources tell me that there was some internal debate about whether to launch the attack. Level heads didn't prevail. Gutless won.

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