by Joshua Heath
Last year, Republican Congressional candidate Mike Garcia gave a striking interview to the Talk of Santa Clarita, a local podcast. Among his statements were typical conservative positions supporting low taxes, economic growth and fealty to Donald Trump. But one quote regarding his stance on social programs was decidedly radical:
“Here’s where I land on all the programs. There should be safety nets, but I don’t want the federal government to be the safety net. I want the churches, I want the local community nonprofits, I want our neighbors to be the safety net because a dollar that’s spent at the federal government level on food stamps – by the time it gets to the level where someone’s actually using those stamps and getting merchandise as a result of that – the inefficiency lost through that whole process is staggering.”
Imagine for a moment the implications of what he is saying, essentially that we should tear apart the federal safety net in exchange for private charity. Since the New Deal Era, when the modern welfare state was introduced to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, Americans have accepted a broad truth: getting big things done requires government action.
Charities have been around from the beginning to deal with our various social ills, from senior poverty to child hunger and help with college costs. In no instance were they able to provide the level of progress that the public sector has .
It took Social Security to award the elderly a semblance of a dignified retirement and Medicare to ensure their health expenses were paid for. Hunger was a serious crisis in American life, as Robert F. Kennedy discovered in his legendary trip to the Mississippi Delta. Then Food Stamps and other nutrition assistance policies were created and widespread, severe malnutrition became a thing of the past.
The examples are endless. Mr. Garcia is either ignorant of this history, or well aware of it and simply doesn’t value the progress that has come from government activism during the past century. If the former is true, he is not intellectually qualified to hold a seat in Congress. If the latter is the case, then his morals are in question, and make him just as unworthy of serious consideration by the voters.
Arguing for undoing decades worth of reform is not a conservative position. Conservativism, as its most profound adherents have understood, centers around pragmatic, moderate change that is respectful of the work of previous generations. Garcia’s vision is not that. It’s a revolutionary one, the sort of ideologically pure radicalism embraced by fanatics of all stripes. Such a perspective is harmless if left to online message boards, but when it is espoused by a leading Congressional candidate, a moderate suburb like Santa Clarita should be very alarmed.
Furthermore, supporting crippling cuts to the federal safety net is a proposal that directly conflicts with Garcia’s major campaign promise: to protect American national security.
For example one of the most important tools this country has is the federal student aid program, passed into law during the heyday of the Great Society. This policy, which ensures every young person can access the credit and scholarships they need to attend college, is relied on by millions of students.
Without it, those kids would have no way to graduate, and our nation would experience an unprecedented brain drain, precisely when we need our young to be high-skilled in order to keep up with the 21st century’s major threat, China.
How can Garcia simultaneously support a vigorous national defense, while opposing the very policies that make our country strong? That’s a contradiction wide enough to drive a truck through.
Any smart leader knows that preserving a nation’s security requires not only adequate weapons but thriving citizens, who can produce the innovations in commerce, politics and the arts that are in the last analysis, the bedrock of America’s influence. The safety net programs currently in place are critical for achieving the second part of that equation.
Our last Republican Representative, Steve Knight, was a relatively more sensible character. He cast a career-defining and cruel vote to repeal Obamacare, that’s true. But during his time in office he also consistently opposed the Trump administration’s draconian budget proposals which would have torn apart the government safety net. Such independent thinking should be roundly applauded.
However, considering Knight was rejected soundly by the voters last election, I find it doubtful that our area will go for an even more extreme candidate in 2020. If I were a betting man, I’d say the Democrats’ electoral chances look very promising.