ICYMI: Wall Street Journal Takes Senator Feingold to Task Over His Attacks on Faith-Based, Anti-Poverty Initiative

Editorial board member Joe Rago contrasts Ron Johnson’s successful Joseph Project with Feingold taking money from community organizations

In case you missed, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Joe Rago took Senator Feingold to task over his attacks on the Joseph Project, a faith-based, anti-poverty initiative Ron Johnson started with a Milwaukee church.

Rago, who wrote about the Joseph Project over the summer, called his time in Wisconsin one of the “few uplifting moments” of the 2016 election cycle, a sharp contrast to Feingold “denigrating” the Joseph Project and taking money from community organizations.

You can read the entire column here, or below:

The Progressive Mind and Poverty: A Wisconsin Case
Political careers like Russ Feingold’s depend on keeping people dependent on government.
The Wall Street Journal
By Joseph Rago

Russ Feingold’s life in government was interrupted in 2010, and apparently the Wisconsin Democrat didn’t use his eviction into the real economy to learn anything about its virtues. This week Mr. Feingold—now bidding to reclaim the Senate seat he lost to Ron Johnson—even denigrated a private antipoverty partnership because of insufficient central planning and government control.

The Joseph Project is a faith-based job-training clinic put on by the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ with the help of Mr. Johnson and his staff. Students—mostly black residents of all ages on Milwaukee’s impoverished north side—are taught “soft skills,” like how to interview. Then they’re matched with manufacturers that can’t fill entry-level positions, which tend to be located more than an hour’s drive north in Sheboygan County. If Joseph Project graduates are hired, the church provides daily transportation for free.

“It’s not enough to pick people up in a van and send them away a couple hours and have them come back exhausted at the end of the day. That doesn’t make a community,” Mr. Feingold told Wisconsin Public Radio. He said his alternative is “more investment in minority-owned businesses, community policing and in public schools.”

Mr. Feingold’s comments are especially revelatory about his political character. The Joseph Project isn’t a substitute for government, and nobody said it was, but Mr. Feingold seems to believe that government is a substitute for civil society.

I spent some time with Mr. Johnson and Greater Praise Pastor Jerome Smith for a story this summer, among my few uplifting moments on the campaign trail this year. Participants talk movingly about experiencing the dignity of work, often for the first time, and the pride they felt when they earned enough to get off food stamps, or to make the rent on time, or to purchase their first car. Some have criminal backgrounds, and they might not have earned a second chance without the Joseph Project’s stamp of approval.

Contra Mr. Feingold, the individuals involved with the project possess the enterprise, if necessary, to travel long hours to places where there are jobs and more opportunity—today. They’re rejecting the other option, which is to wait for Mr. Feingold to get around to helping them.

The former senator is the definition of a career politician: He became a state senator in 1982, at age 29; his “signature issue in the legislature,” reports the Almanac of American Politics, “was a ban on bovine growth hormones.” Voters sent him to Washington in 1992, where the plan, like those of so many other senators, was probably to die in office as a conventional welfare-state liberal.

The post-1964 poverty industrial complex has grown to some 13 federal agencies that run more than 80 programs meant to aid low-income Americans, spending about $744 billion in 2016. Quite a lot of that money already flows to schools, police departments and minority businesses in Milwaukee, which doesn’t lack for federal ministrations. Maybe the Joseph Project threatens Mr. Feingold by producing results where the feds have failed.

As a recovering senator, Mr. Feingold hasn’t thrown himself into charity or social work but has specialized in separating public institutions from their money. According to his financial-disclosure forms, he’s made a living with teaching stints and speaking fees at state universities. Though his main gig was at Stanford, he also filled his tin cup with honoraria from a public library in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.; the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, a Jewish-youth summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wis.; and the Young Progressives Club at Hinsdale Central High School, in Illinois.

If taxpayers continue to foot Mr. Feingold’s salary, at least as a senator, don’t expect him to do more to improve the condition of the poor in the next six years than he did in his previous 28. The careers of modern progressives like Mr. Feingold depend on keeping people in poverty. Then there is a need for another new federal program, or for more spending (or “investment”), and they can congratulate themselves for their benevolence, regardless of outcomes.

Mr. Johnson measures the success of a program by how many people don’t need food stamps, and he recognizes that the space between the individual and the state is where people realize their human potential. Mr. Feingold is someone who talks down, for his own political benefit, a ministry to some of America’s most disadvantaged communities.