The War on Poverty Fighters

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait released a preemptive critique of Comeback yesterday in a post entitled, “Paul Ryan Proves He Doesn’t Care About Publicity by Releasing Publicity Film.” That’s a clever title. But Chait also proved he isn’t terribly interested in debating issues of poverty in good faith by dismissing a film he hasn’t seen and hasn’t been released. (The Comeback trailer was released on March 5. The entire film, a seven-episode series, comes out on March 17.)

Chait’s ideological prejudice, sadly, is hardly unique. For decades, defenders of the status quo have embraced a doctrine of preemptive war against perceived threats to the poverty industrial complex. In the process, the war on poverty too often has become a war on poverty fighters.

Case in point: by dismissing Comeback as a Ryan “propaganda film” Chait is saying the subjects of the film – the people fighting poverty successfully – have been duped into participating in a publicity stunt. Chait thinks he’s belittling Ryan but he’s really belittling the subjects of a film he hasn’t seen, and people he has never met. The notion that these reformers need to be guided, instructed and cautioned by superior intellects is a conceit that itself is a systemic problem in the fight against poverty.

One of those subjects, Antong Lucky, an anti-gang violence activist in Dallas, had this to say on his Facebook page, “[T]he real transformation going on across this nation … when encountered will melt the coldest heart and change the most polarizing perspective. People may try to politicize it and that’s totally expected but if … they are not moved by these forms of transformation and redemption examples then I would surmise that their efforts to criticize is politicized.” 

Chait and others may stick to their conclusion after they see the film. But they won’t be taking on Ryan. They’ll be picking a fight with successful reformers and inspirational heroes who know a lot more about fighting poverty than so-called “experts” in Washington or Manhattan.

John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.