COLUMBIA With Democrats calling for an apology, South Carolina Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer agreed today that he used a badly phrased metaphor in a speech on government assistance but reiterated that the "culture of dependency" created by welfare must change.
After The Greenville News reported that Bauer drew a comparison between "feeding stray animals" and doling out government assistance, Democratic candidates for governor called Bauer's comments despicable, embarrassing and unchristian.
"Maybe the metaphor isn't the best metaphor. I agree with them on that," said the 40-year-old gubernatorial candidate. "But I think there are a lot of people that use issues like this to divide people and never offer solutions. The easiest thing to do is criticize someone for saying something, other than saying, 'Maybe we should talk about this.'"
At a town hall meeting Thursday in northwestern South Carolina, Bauer noted his grandmother "told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed."
"The problem is, there are so many folks now who don't have to do a thing. In government, we continue to reward bad behavior. Anytime we give somebody money, we're rewarding them. We're telling them to keep doing what they're doing. Government's got to change," he said. "Babies having babies, somebody's got to talk about. ... Education cannot really be improved until we address the real problem."
To fix that, he said, "If you receive goods or services from the government, you owe something back."
State schools Superintendent Jim Rex, who's also running for governor as a Democrat, called the stray animals comparison "reprehensible."
"If the intent of Lt. Gov. Bauer's remarks was to blame children, who are not responsible for their own predicaments, or to blame adults, who want to work but cannot find jobs, it is regrettable," said Rex, among those who called for an apology.
South Carolina's jobless rate reached yet another all-time high in December at 12.6 percent.
Bauer reiterated today that there are direct links between poverty, lack of parental involvement and poor student performance, and he said other candidates are too concerned about being politically correct to find solutions.
In South Carolina, 58 percent of public school students eat free or reduced-price meals in school cafeterias. Schools with lots of parental involvement tend to do well, while schools with the highest poverty rates post the worst results, he said.
He said the government can't afford to keep giving money away, without requiring the recipients to take an active role in bettering their lives and their children's.
That means parents of students on free or reduced-lunches should be required to go to parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings, or "bam, you lose your benefits" just as there are repercussions if people don't pay their taxes he said Thursday.
He said today that he did not mean food should be taken from children, but rather that their parents should lose welfare benefits.
"We're breeding a culture of dependency," he said. "We have generation after generation of babies having babies and no vehicle to get them out of that situation. We're doing a disservice to the very people we say we're trying to help."
He noted he was a beneficiary of free lunches after his parents divorced when he was 11, so he's not bashing the needy. But he said there's a difference between those who are truly needy and those who are just lazy.
"I came from a broken home. I have been in this situation," he said, noting that he spent today collecting shoes, blankets and other goods for victims of the Haiti earthquake. "Do I think poor people ought to be helped? Yes. I'm saying we've got to do things to break the cycle."
He said people on welfare should be required to pass drug tests and be offered incentives, such as child care, to earn their GED.
"I believe in charity. I believe in helping people," he said. "I also believe government, too often in its effort to help people, ends up creating a bigger problem."