Ellen Carmichael writes about Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race:
On Monday evening, Opportunity Lives hosted a “Comeback” screening event at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) headlined the event, and he requested that Pastor Jerome Smith of the Joseph Project also participate.
Following a screening of a few of the episodes of the film, Sen. Johnson and Pastor Smith, joined by Dallas-based Urban Specialists Pastor Omar Jahwar and Antong Lucky, held an on-stage discussion and question-and-answer session with nearly 100 students and guests on community-based solutions to poverty. The conversation covered topics ranging from criminality to social entrepreneurship to economic empowerment.
Johnson’s heart for the poor beats outside the halls of the U.S. Senate. For the past several years, he and Smith have run The Joseph Project, a Wisconsin-based non-profit that teaches vital job skills to unemployed adults in search of long-term work.
After successfully completing training with The Joseph Project, qualified applicants are matched with local employers, typically in the state’s manufacturing sector, who are seeking reliable employees. These positions often pay upwards of $25 an hour with full benefits. Since many of the program’s participants have criminal records, such opportunities would be impossible without The Joseph Project vouching for their trustworthiness to prospective employers.
Once an applicant receives an offer, Johnson’s group ensures he or she can go to work. If no dependable transportation is available, The Joseph Project will transport workers to their jobs and back home for free. The organization runs several shuttle routes daily, ensuring that those who complete the program can earn a steady paycheck once they enter the workforce.
For Johnson, The Joseph Project is a deeply personal passion. It combines a faith-inspired calling to serve others and honoring the manufacturing heritage of the Midwest. And for the Wisconsin Republican, it harkens to his own business success story, where he rose from machine operator at his wife’s family business to eventually its owner and CEO.
And unlike many public figures, Johnson is actually involved in the organization he promotes. He’s led 13 training sessions, and he’s personally connected job seekers to Wisconsin manufacturers with positions to fill. Without Johnson’s leadership, many families couldn’t put food on their tables.
At Monday’s event, Johnson recalled the families whose lives have been transformed by The Joseph Project. While he credited Pastor Smith’s ministry for the program’s success, his business acumen and personal network have been utterly indispensible in helping people achieve their dreams.
Following our event, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a brief write-up about Johnson’s faith-focused efforts to eliminate poverty. The story, apparently meant to convince secular Madisonians that Republicans want religious litmus tests for those needing aid, insinuates that Johnson believes only his religious-affiliated approach is the right one.
Johnson’s political opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), responded by claiming non-profits like The Joseph Project were insufficient substitutes for robust government spending. But he didn’t stop there, denigrating the organization, explaining:
“It’s not enough to pick people up in a van and send them away a couple hours and have them come back exhausted at the end of the day. That doesn’t make a community.”
When the NPR reporter relayed Feingold’s full statement (there was more that wasn’t included in the published piece) to Johnson after our event, he was visibly disgusted and seemingly a little shocked that his Democratic rival would insult the program’s leaders, volunteers and participants so brazenly.
Perhaps Feingold’s bizarre strategy of attacking a faith-inspired inner city charity is a reaction to the incredibly effective slate of television advertisements from the Johnson campaign telling the stories of the beneficiaries of The Joseph Project. Or maybe it’s because the Democrats thought Johnson’s seat would be an easy pick-up for them in the 2016 cycle. The race is currently a statistical tie with Johnson trending upward and Feingold collapsing in the polls.
Either way, Johnson is right to be repulsed. Feingold’s comments demonstrate the Left’s earnest sentiments about the poor: they are too stupid to want better for themselves and too lazy to do the work necessary to achieve it.
While Democrats like Feingold never stop congratulating themselves for their altruism, it is this same self-aggrandizement and condescension that has exacerbated the problems in America’s disadvantaged communities. Their policies have done nothing to improve the quality of life for those who struggle, and in fact, have made it worse by discouraging the dignity of work and diminishing each individual’s worth.
Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson’s so-called “War on Poverty” began, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $22 trillion on programs intended to help the poor. Much of this spending has expanded government under control of Democrats who promised that their benevolence would eliminate poverty. It didn’t.
Today, 14 percent of Americans are still poor – the same percentage as those impoverished half a century ago. After allocating three times what the U.S. government has spent on all wars from the American Revolution to present day on eliminating poverty, there is still an inequality of opportunity in the form of educational injustice and economic immobility in disadvantaged communities.
To make matters worse, the Democrats’ favorite spending programs have undeniably eroded the family unit, diminished localized civic involvement, and handicapped faith-based institutions. For centuries, these have been keys to thriving, stable communities. Without them, they have crumbled.
Despite the abundant evidence that clearly proves just how wrong they’ve been, Democrats are so wedded to the cause of growing government that they continue to put politics over people and ideology over better ideas. And when faced with the human costs of the repeated failures of their policies, Democrats soothe their guilt by celebrating how much money they’ve spent and promising to spend more. For too many Democrats, outputs are irrelevant, particularly if the inputs – government spending – make them feel good about themselves and help them get reelected.
And too many Democrats see charities, especially those rooted in a faith tradition, as a threat to the poverty industrial complex that perpetuates their power. They insist that groups like the Joseph Project – an organization that has actually been successful moving people from welfare to work – are inferior alternatives to a government system that, in many cases, is the hurting the very people it is designed to help.
Feingold won’t tell Wisconsinites the truth: organizations like the Joseph Project, if replicated and tailored to neighborhoods nationwide, would practically end the poverty industrial complex that has destroyed communities, and with it, the spirit of far too many of our fellow Americans.
Or perhaps he simply doesn’t understand some important truths. The government can’t give a felon a hug. A federal law can’t instill in a hopeless person a sense of purpose. And no Congressional action is as effective as someone giving themselves in service to another.
It is human beings caring for each other person to person – human beings like those who work and volunteer for the Joseph Project, including Sen. Ron Johnson – who make a difference in our country.
Imagine that: Improving the lives of the poor without a government program. Obviously Feingold opposes that. And he’s a jerk, but you knew that.