Mike Huckabee Falsely Attacks Obama’s Personal Charity; Inadvertently Makes the Case for the Safety Net
As Dan noted last week, the conservative outrage about the President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast has been ridiculous.
But in his remarks at CPAC Friday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee took these attacks to a new level, using false claims about the President’s personal charity to discredit his popular, sensible call for enacting fair levels of taxation on the wealthiest Americans instead of placing the entire burden of deficit reduction on the vulnerable
Watch it (via Right Wing Watch):
There are two big distortions here. First, Huckabee puts words in the President’s mouth. The President did not say, as Huckabee claims, that “Jesus would want us to pay higher tax rates.” He said that Jesus’s saying “unto whom much is given, much shall be required” coincides with his belief that he and other high-income earners can afford to give up some of their tax breaks, particularly when keeping those breaks would require punishing people who are already struggling to make ends meet.
But more misleadingly, Huckabee goes on to personally attack the President for allegedly only giving 1% of his income to charity (9% less than the Biblical minimum for tithing). This is just factually untrue.
The President’s tax returns are publicly available. If Huckabee had bothered to look them up, he would’ve found that last year the President gave $245,000 or 14% of his income to charity.
The ultimate point of Huckabee’s smear is to reinforce a common conservative rebuttal to the case for government: if we cut the safety net no one will get dropped because private charity will take care of it. While this claim may help morally whitewash the GOP’s decidedly immoral attacks on vulnerable people, it’s also not true.
As nearly 5,000 pastors from around the country have testified directly, religious congregations cannot shoulder the entire burden of caring for and protecting the most vulnerable – the federal government’s resources are indispensable. What’s more, federal programs have the unique, counter-cyclical function of ramping up to protect hard-hit families when times are bad and charities are struggling as well.
Huckabee also resurrects a common, fatally flawed argument for right-wing economics:
It is the job not of the government but of Christian believers to stand up and reach out to people in need. We will never do that on a penny out of a dollar and when we give that sparingly, it will necessitate the government giving more glowingly
That Christian believers aren’t currently giving enough to meet the full need of their fellow citizens is something Huckabee can certainly be upset about, but it’s anything but an argument for cutting crucial support programs or failing to raise adequate revenue to fund them.
The best argument Huckabee could be implying is that high tax rates are collecting the money people would otherwise be donating to charity. If we would only lower taxes, he might suggest, charitable giving would increase. The problem is that while the research on this claim is mixed, it’s clear that tax cuts aren’t guaranteed charity-boosters.
Even in the cases where tax cuts do lead to some increased giving, only a small portion of private charity actually goes to address the needs of the most vulnerable — more common are gifts to causes like cultural institutions or academic alma maters. On the other hand, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reminds that 92 percent of food stamp funding goes directly to meeting hard-hit families nutrition needs.
No matter how you slice it, there’s no way for Huckabee and conservatives who agree with him to get around the fact that the social safety net is irreplaceable. If they don’t think it’s worth paying for, they should at least admit they’re ok with the real human damage cuts would have, instead of arguing that everything will be alright in spite of the clear evidence to the contrary.