Quick, what is the best cure for poverty and despair? Did you say employment and opportunity? Are you kidding me? That’s so 20th century. 

On Monday night in New York City two of the brightest stars of the conservative firmament, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan, told a tuxedo and gown-wearing crowd of Wall Street titans that really what the poor need is love and traditional marriage, not intelligent government programs crafted to combat poverty.

Ryan told the upscale crowd that “the best way to turn from a vicious cycle of despair and learned hopelessness to a virtuous cycle of hope and flourishing is by embracing the attributes of friendship, accountability and love.”

“That's how you fight poverty,” said the smiling House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee, who never met a government program he didn’t want to eviscerate.

Bush also had two cents to add to this unlikely love-in. “A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create,” he said.

Multiple studies have certainly shown that marriage can significantly contribute to the financial and emotion well being of those who enter it, but so can a functioning economy. 

But notice how Bush tacked the word “traditional” before marriage itself? Traditional marriage is code for heterosexual marriage. Homosexual marriage also improves the financial and emotional health of gay couples, but neither Bush nor Ryan could bring themselves to admit it. They do not want or need their votes apparently. 

So fighting poverty with “friendship, accountability and love” only applies if you’re straight, white and Christian, presumably. Non-traditional people are on their own again.  

The pair were speaking to the Manhattan Institute, a wealthy Republican conservative group that has seen its favored candidates ritually mauled by Tea Party Patriots in what has become an annual sport of sorts. 

I think it’s fascinating to watch the leading lights of the GOP establishment embrace love, friendship and marriage (for some) as the best emollient for our economic ills. I mean, who wants to argue against romance?

But did you know that the number of working age Americans without a job has risen by 27 million since 2000?

Back in 2008 only 25 percent of all Americans described themselves as “lower middle class” or “poor.” This year an extraordinary 40 percent chose one of those two terms to describe themselves. You can’t describe yourself as middle class without making a middle class wage, after all. 

So I’m fascinated by this new “all you need is love” message from the GOP. Have they finally embraced the Summer of Love 47 years after the fact? Or do they just mean that love is free, which is a good thing because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to pay for it – or anything else?

It’s hilarious to see conservative politicians become unlikely protectors of the human spirit, having done so much to oppress it. It’s as if they suddenly swapped seats with Pope Francis, who has become a prominent critic of the kind of trickle down capitalist theory that they favor.

Last week the Pope called on world leaders to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor during an address he delivered before top UN officials. He even called for a global initiative to reduce the income gap.

Once again he denounced the trickle-down economic theories beloved by Ryan and Bush as unproven and naive. This, of course, incensed conservative critics in the U.S. who started calling him a Marxist.

So we’re through the looking glass this week. Fabulously rich Republican politicians now want to protect the spiritual welfare of the nation, and the Pope wants to ensure we have a fair shot at life and have something to eat. For most of human history their job descriptions were the other way around. 

What this is actually telling us is that the GOP has no plan to end our long-term economic decline, or create programs to tackle poverty or chronic unemployment. 

Instead they have decided to hide behind exclusionary and bogus “feel-good” bromides that try to mask their ideological dead end. Things have gotten so bad out there that instead of talking about love and marriage we now have a Pope who wants to do the hard work of politicians, having noticed they are of no mind to do it themselves.