Welcome to a World where Mercy is a Vice

I never thought I would live to see compassion become a vice, but obviously that’s what happened while I wasn’t looking. There on my TV screen was President Obama being pilloried in a Romney ad (above, left) for allegedly giving aid and comfort to the wretched. And within hours, his campaign was denying it.

In today’s America – in today’s world? – you must not give food and shelter to the poorest among us – not if you hope to make it in politics.

In today’s America, millionaires are pampered and the downtrodden stomped on.

And thousands cheer.

What have we come to?

The ad – like so many Romney ads – is a lie. The president has not, as the ad charged, taken the work out of workfare and set America back to the days of plain old welfare. What Obama did was say yes to a group of Republican governors who wanted more flexibility in administering the workfare program introduced under former president Bill Clinton.

Like all federal programs it’s complicated, but basically the program requires welfare recipients to be available for work or to be training for a trade. Working with a Republican Congress, Clinton had made the changes back in1996.

Contrary to Romney’s claim, President Obama’s modifications left the work in workfare. States still have to enforce the program’s work requirements, but they can use different methods from those spelled out in the legislation.

You might think the Obama administration would be proud and happy to make life a little easier for the poor at a time when a record 16 percent of the country are living in poverty. But in an environment where racism is often stoked by epithets like “welfare queen,”  America’s first black president extends the hand of mercy to the downtrodden at his peril. As a black man, he must walk a fine line or be condemned for racial favoritism – even though the vast majority of welfare recipients are white.

Amazingly, by demonizing the poor, Romney and his Republicans expect to gain favor with the Religious Right.

These professed Christians are among the most virulent opponents of welfare. They even object to the government providing sustenance to hungry children.

And they are not alone. A recent Rasmussen survey showed that 83 percent of Americans favor work requirements for welfare recipients. Has America become a nation of Ebenezer Scrooges (above, right) then?  Does the world’s leading democracy hanker for a return to the Victorian days when prisons and workhouses were all that the poor could look forward to?


Click here for a report on US poverty.