Jim Wallis of Sojourners (available by subscription) believes that poverty can be dramatically reduced both at home and across the globe:
"Our plan is nothing less than to put poverty on the national agenda, and to compel candidates from both parties to present the nation with their plans for dramatic poverty reduction both at home and globally. I believe we can vote out poverty, but only if we are all in it together."
This seems a little odd. If Wallis knows how poverty can be "voted out" I would certainly like to hear his suggestions. If he doesn't know but wants to support a candidate who advances some plan, that seems to me a little naive. What criteria will he use to evaluate whether the plan would be effective? Would he support any candidate who advances any plan?
Would Wallis, for instance, support whichever candidate proposes to spend the most money on the problem? Lyndon Johnson established the Great Society's War on Poverty back in the early sixties. Since then we've spent over six trillion dollars trying to eliminate poverty, and we still have lots of poor people. In fact, it can be argued fairly persuasively, I think, that the Great Society was, on balance, a disaster for the American poor.
Would Wallis support a candidate who believes that the best way to help people out of poverty is to foster a strong economy? Republicans from Reagan to Bush have taken that approach, with considerable success, but Wallis doesn't seem enthusiastic about their philosophy of cutting taxes and reducing stifling regulations.
Would Wallis support a candidate who argues that most poverty in America today is due to unfortunate choices people have made throughout their lives which have rendered them unable to take advantage of the opportunities which are there for anyone who has the skills, discipline, and ambition to take advantage of them? Would he agree that the problem is, to a large extent, exacerbated by a degenerate culture which bathes people in assumptions which are often harmful to their prospects for achievement? He does acknowledge the insidious effects of our culture, I'm sure, but I doubt that he would be satisfied with any presidential candidate who believed that the most government can do for the poor is to change the culture.
I don't know this, of course, but my hunch is that were Wallis confronted with three candidates who each represented one of the three positions outlined above, he'd opt for the one who promised to raise taxes and initiate a vast transfer of wealth from the haves to the have nots, just as LBJ did. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the candidate who will win Sojourners' support will not be the one who promises to throw the most money at poverty, but I'll be surprised, pleasantly so, if it's not.RLC