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Are Republicans cold-hearted toward the poor? Republicans earned their reputation

Republicans may hate their reputation for indifference to and contempt for the poor. But to borrow one of their favorite phrases: They built that.

It was certainly on display during the last presidential election: When GOP nominee Mitt Romney got behind closed doors, he talked about the “47 percent” of Americans who would rather get federal subsidies than work for a living. (Conveniently, perhaps, Romney ignored that most of that 47 percent does both.)

It was on display a few years back, when the conservative Wall Street Journal labeled poor families “lucky duckies” because of the tax credits they receive to do little things like make sure their children don’t starve.

And it was certainly on display back in the 1980s and 1970s when Ronald Reagan — using barely concealed racial code words — breathed fire at the “welfare queens” and the “strapping young bucks” who allegedly used food stamps to buy T-bone steaks.

It’s all a destructive myth.

Studies show that the chronic stress of being poor — yes, even in America — makes many people vulnerable to diabetes, heart problems and other health issues. Other studies have suggested that such stress simply makes it harder to make good decisions or consistently pursue the kinds of long-term goals and behaviors that might lift a person out of poverty. The folks find little official sympathy from the Republican Party and its ilk.

To be sure: There are some conservatives who are concerned with poverty, who believe in free-market solutions to helping people lift themselves out of poverty, and often those folks have good ideas that might benefit everybody involved in the fight against the ills of being poor.

But the Pew survey suggests those folks are outliers. That’s the kind of thing that would be said only by somebody who has never been poor. And it’s a belief apparently held by the vast majority of Republicans. They earned their reputation, fair and square.

Joel Mathis ( is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.