When Robert W. Patterson — editor of a fundamentalist Christian journal, The Family in America — resigned his post as an adviser to Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare (DPW) last week, the bulk of the public mockery was directed at Patterson's assertion that, since semen has salutary psychological effects on women, they shouldn't bother using contraception.
But equally striking is his commitment to shredding the protections of our already tattered social safety net. In the journal, he called the anti-poverty programs of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society "more of a quagmire than Vietnam ever was."
Patterson was fired, but Gov. Tom Corbett has heeded his advice, freeing the poor from the curse of government cheese and access to abortion. Poor people, says DPW, with more than $2,000 in assets — excluding cars and houses, but including savings — will no longer be eligible for food stamps. DPW also cut more than 88,000 Pennsylvania children from Medicaid rolls since August. Meanwhile, a new law governing clinics will likely make abortions more expensive and further out of reach.
The politics of poverty have long been bound up in sexual morality, the poor chided for dangerously unbridled fertility. Patterson — a man who spends a lot of time worrying about the "destructive social pathologies let loose by the sexual and feminist revolutions" and quoting Teddy Roosevelt's prescription that "woman must be the housewife" — is concerned that women aren't having enough babies, at least not in wedlock. His theory: Liberal elites peddling contraception and abortion, and playing daddy with food stamps and welfare dollars, have directed too much life-giving man elixir away from the healthful confines of the traditional family.
Welfare programs, he says, have caused more "material hardship" than "slavery and segregation."Patterson's assertion that people are poor because they are not married, and that they are not married because the government gives them too much free shit, might sound crazy, but his views represent conservative orthodoxy. Rick Santorum, too, insists that marriage prevents poverty. Newt Gingrich implies poverty is the government's fault when he repeatedly calls Obama "the food stamp president."
Government, you see, has caused so many problems for poor people in Pennsylvania. Corbett's plan, in the midst of the Great Recession, is to let God sort them out. With unemployment high and poverty rates through the roof, even the mightiest deity will certainly have his or her hands full.
UPDATE: While Patterson submitted his resignation last week, he will officially leave his post this coming Tuesday, Jan. 31.