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OUR OPINION: Fix GOP’s image problem on poverty

Most Americans would agree that “poor farms” didn’t work. They were sad and demeaning and did little to wean the poor, handicapped or elderly off of government help.

But until a few generations ago, publicly funded poor farms and poor houses were common in America, including here in the Red River Valley. Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty, just last week, noted how Grand Forks County maintained a poor farm from the 1890s through the 1950s.

It was FDR’s New Deal that showed there are more popular and effective ways to help the poor. Roosevelt was, of course, a Democrat.

But today, in the wake of not only the New Deal but also LBJ’s Great Society, many Americans — especially Republicans — argue that subsidizing the poor is a sure way to increase, not reduce, the number of financially strapped people who depend upon government aid.

The column on today’s editorial page asks, “Are Republicans cold-hearted to the poor?” Tough question, and one that doesn’t lend itself to a yes-or-no answer.

We agree with many Republican ideals. We generally side with the GOP when it comes to immigration, and we do feel that many people who could be working opt to stay unemployed because it’s easy, and it pays.

But we also sense that Democrats are on to something when they insist that in modern society the government’s helping hand is vital in helping many people get on their feet, a la Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Those are contradictory impulses, so we waver and flutter in the wind on this one. We acknowledge it.

But we also acknowledge an answer, which is to support those programs that minimize the trade-offs by coming down somewhere in the middle. Hardline Republicans seem unwilling to make such concessions, which is why the McLatchy Tribune News Service thinks the question of Republicans being “cold-hearted” toward the poor is a topic of legitimate debate.

Bottom line: The GOP should shake its anti-poor image by crafting policies to help less-fortunate Americans get educated and find jobs.

Doing so would put the party a giant step closer to reclaiming the White House in 2016.