Commentary Race

In Kansas, A Public Conference Reveals Deep Contempt for the Poor and for Women

Kari Ann Rinker

What young women need (beyond the obvious need for greater access to low cost birth control and improved sex education in schools) is a boost to their self-esteem, mentors, and to be told that they possess greatness within themselves beyond what can be obtained by any man, babies, money, drugs or alcohol. They sure don't need the condescending and biased advice of Sam Brownback and the Heritage Foundation.

“This Governor failed!” This was my angry proclamation to Kansas Public Radio after listening to Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation speak in Kansas City, Kansas on the topic of childhood poverty. Robert Rector was introduced as the “intellectual godfather of welfare reform.” Mr. Rector was invited to Kansas to speak by Governor Sam Brownback.

Governor Brownback stated at the start of the conference that he was seeking bi-partisan solutions to the problem of high rates of children living in poverty within our state.  He declared “the best way to do it is to reach as far across the political spectrum and find someone as far opposite or different from you as you can and start to talk about strategy.” This advice is obviously meant for all of the left leaning and moderate folks in the room, because this far right, radical Governor brought in a far-right, radical talking head from the Heritage Foundation. This is how the Governor failed.

Robert Rector’s resume includes a piece he wrote titled “The Myth of Poverty”, claiming that the Census Bureau is overestimating the number of those truly living in poverty. He recently wrote a piece for the National Review, “How do the poor live? For starters, a poor child in America is far more likely to have a wide-screen plasma television, cable or satellite TV, a computer and an Xbox or TiVo in his home than he is to be hungry.” Mr. Rector backed up his resume of crazy by spouting off some of these doozies during the course of his 45 minute speech…

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the means-tested welfare system to support children in the United States is predominately a support system that compensates for the erosion of marriage.

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And…

Your state is separating into 2 social castes- unmarried women and married couples.

And…

Marriage is stronger than education in reducing child poverty–it has the same effect as 4 or 5 years of education for the mother. The effect of marriage in reducing poverty is stronger statistically than graduating from high school.

And….

These women regard having children as the most significant thing in their lives. It’s what gives their lives meaning. It’s just that they think of marriage like we think of a trip to Honolulu-it’d be nice sometime in the future, but not right now! First they get pregnant, and then they worry about marriage.

And…

We’ve absolutely saturated these communities with birth control. In fact, Title X clinics don’t seem to be doing a very good job, do they?!

And…

Sequential cohabitation is the primary cause of spousal abuse and child abuse. If they’re not the dad and just living with the mom, and the child is screaming and yelling, then the guy is more likely to react not in a positive way.

And…

Low income women aren’t hostile to marriage-they’re not radical feminists. They’re actually quite conservative.

Mr. Rector’s government solution to the problem of unmarried ladies was presented as a three-part plan…

1. Explain the benefits of marriage in middle and high schools with a high proportion of at-risk youth;

2. Create public education campaigns in low-income communities on the benefits of marriage;

3. Require federally funded birth control clinics to provide information on the benefits of marriage and skills needed to develop stable families to interested low-income clients.

I can condense those three parts into two words… indoctrination and coercion.

Mr. Rector backed his statements up by producing a big screen with a power point that had lots of “data.” A reporter later asked me what I thought about the data. I agreed with the fact that the majority of children that are living in poverty are living in the homes of single mothers. However, focusing on this one piece of this very large puzzle is not just short-sided, it perpetuates the right wing sexist myth of lazy welfare moms. So, for Mr. Rector’s purposes…focusing on this one piece serves him, Governor Brownback and the rest of their right wing radical base well.

What young women need (beyond the obvious need for greater access to low cost birth control and improved sex education in schools) is a boost to their self-esteem. They need mentors that will tell them that they are greater than their biological ability to pro-create. They need to be told that they possess greatness within themselves beyond what can be obtained by any outside stimulus, whether that be men, babies, money, drugs or alcohol. We must prop these young women up with not only internal fortitude, but with jobs that pay a living wage and opportunities for secondary education.

These “town halls” created to perpetuate myths and sexist stereotypes about women for the political purpose of crushing welfare benefits to the needy within our state will do nothing to combat the true problem of childhood poverty. These events are despicable and they are sad. This Governor is using the poor children of Kansas as pawns to advance his personal political agenda.

The one positive that could potentially come from these high profile staged “town hall” events in Kansas, is the outing of this Governor. This Governor is not just an opponent of abortion, or even birth control, he is an opponent of women.

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