WashPost's Henderson Blames Reagan for Giving Poor Negative Image

Appearing as a guest on Tuesday's PoliticsNation on MSNBC, Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson complained that former President Reagan left Americans with a negative image of poor people on welfare "taking advantage of the system."

She also suggested that Democrats have not spent enough time talking about poverty in recent years and praised Democrats California Rep. Karen Bass and Newark Mayor Cory Booker as "champions" who are stepping up to advocate for the poor. Henderson:

I think sometimes some people sort of focus on this old idea of poverty that it's in certain areas, in the inner city. I think we have Ronald Reagan in many ways to thank for that consistent image about poverty and about people who are poor and taking advantage of the system. It's just not true.

She soon added:

I think you're going to see somebody like Cory Booker who looks like he will be the next Senator from New Jersey, he's somebody who wants to come in and really talk about the poverty. The Democratic party, I think for many years, have not wanted to talk about poverty. And it looks like along with folks like Karen Bass and Cory Booker, they're going to have these champions to talk about poverty.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Tuesday, August 27, PoliticsNation on MSNBC:

AL SHARPTON: Tonight's lead, heartless GOP conservatives are reaching deep into their bag of insults to attack Americans who are hurting and to justify what's increasingly become a Republican party hostile to those in need. On Fox News, Bill O'Reilly can't wait to give you his expertise on poor people.

BILL O'REILLY, FNC: Most of the poor are in that circumstance because of poor personal decision making. This country offers great opportunity to everybody, but you must work hard to seize it.

SHARPTON: Poverty comes from poor decision making? What about if you're a child and poor? Is your decision making under suspicion? This cartoonish stuff isn't new for the likes of Hannity, Beck, or O'Reilly.

O'REILLY: My contention is that the Obama administration is encouraging parasites to come out and, you know, take as much as they can with no remorse. And this is how a country declines. This is how we become a weak nation.

SHARPTON: So if you need food stamps, you're a parasite. That wasn't exactly his language when he supported billions of dollars to bail out bankers in need.

But this is the heartless talk we keep hearing from the right, and Bill O'Reilly is hardly alone. Tea Party Senator Rand Paul is comparing the use of food stamps to slavery. In an interview he said access to food and water is not a right because, quote, "once you conscript people and say oh, it's a right, then really you're in charge. It's servitude. You're in charge of me, and I'm supposed to do whatever you ... to tell me to do."

So, if you take food stamps, you're accepting servitude. Senator, what about if you're hungry? And it doesn't stop at food stamps. Here's what Republican Congressman Dave Joyce was caught on tape saying about the unemployed.

REP. DAVE JOYCE (R-OH): There's three million jobs every month in this country that go unfilled. And the trouble is, it's because they either can't find people to come to work sober, daily, drug-free and want to learn the necessary skills going forward to be able to do those jobs."

SHARPTON: Three million unemployed people can't find jobs because they're on drugs? This is how mean-spirited and cruel the Republican party has become. Here's GOP Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania a few months ago.

GOVERNOR TOM CORBETT (R-PA): There are many employers that say we're looking for people, but we can't find anybody that has passed a drug test, a lot of them, and that's a concern for me.

SHARPTON: Well, Governor, here's what's  a concern for me. Look at this inequality chart. The blue line shows, over the last three decades, the poorest 20 percent in this country had income gains of 16 percent. And this red line during the same period, the top one percent enjoyed gains of 281 percent. That's right. That 281 percent growth. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. Yet they're attacking  the unemployed, attacking Americans on food stamps, and attacking the poor. It may fire up their base, but it's a heartless thing to do, and it's wrong.

(...)

SHARPTON: Nia-Malika, the fact that you have a guy like Bill O'Reilly, who has a long history of blaming the poor for their own poverty. Listen to this.

O'REILLY CLIP #1: There is almost always a reason attached to it. It is not the capitalist system's fault. It's usually personal responsibility or something like that.

O'REILLY CLIP #2: And the causes are these, poor education, addiction, irresponsible behavior, and laziness.

O'REILLY CLIP #3: The majority of blacks want money spent to level the playing field, to redistribute income from the white establishment.

O'REILLY CLIP #4: -and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who's going to give them things? President Obama.

SHARPTON: Now, Nia-Malika, does the moderate Republicans that you cover agree with this? I mean, saying that the majority of blacks want money spent to level the playing field and to redistribute income from the white establishment, 50 percent of the voters want stuff. Do moderate Republicans believe this and follow this kind of rhetoric?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, I think you hear from moderate Republicans that they're certainly more in the mold of George Bush, who came into office or at least campaigned on compassionate conservatism, and campaigned against the House Republicans at the time saying that he didn't think it was right to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

I think another thing we're missing here in terms of what poverty looks like in America, it's increasingly in the suburbs. And if you look at polls out recently, four out of five of adults in this country will, at some point struggle with poverty, possibly have to accept food stamps. So this, I mean, I think sometimes some people sort of focus on this old idea of poverty that it's in certain areas, in the inner  city. I think we have Ronald Reagan in many ways to thank for that consistent image about poverty and about people who are poor and taking advantage of the system. It's just not true.

Poverty is much more widespread. It crosses much more demographics racially than it has in many, many years and it's very sad. I think you're going to see somebody like Cory Booker who looks like he will be the next Senator from New Jersey, he's somebody who wants to come in and really talk about the poverty. The Democratic party, I think for many years, have not wanted to talk about poverty. And it looks like along with folks like Karen Bass and Cory Booker, they're going to have these champions to talk about poverty.