BradK, you made a few points that pique my interest. They are:
What I'm typically talking about is the social safety nets. Generally speaking, the liberal position is more favorable to setting up those nets to catch as many people as possible when they need it. I would challenge them that their policies don't provide a way out of them very clearly.
I generally favor policies that give a crap about people and have a slight bleeding heart about it. I draw the line however at policies that invite or create dependency.
I would posit that the vast majority of people in this country would agree with your basic point on the need for safety nets coupled with the dangers of dependency. I certainly do.
On a personal note, as a young adult I was very intent on making a career out of helping people who needed help the most. I earned a MSW (Masters, Social Work) with the idea of working with young people who have had a rough start in life. And for a few years I worked with kids with behavioral or emotional problems. It was assumed by one and all that I was a terrific guy for pursuing this career. I mention this because, while my political philosophy gradually changed, my interest in social problems has not. Yet it was no longer assumed that me heart was in the right place. Liberals hold a huge advantage in assumed motives. I blame articulate liberals and inarticulate conservatives for the current perceptions about the motives of liberals and conservatives.
My point is to challenge the assumption by many that the left are primarily the folks who care about the less fortunate. Certainly many do as do many on the right. And there are bad guys on both sides as well. The left is far better at the PR contest.
Of course at the end of the day, the question of who cares the most is less important than who delivers. We have all heard the phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Good intentions are a good starting point but is not the end all be all as some seem to assume. What matters is results.
On that score I have come to believe that the lefts preferred approach - government interventions - should be measured for effectiveness. Government schools are a disaster or at least a major disappointment. The war on poverty failed. Welfare marginalized black men. Social Security has been a success but is unsustainable in its current form. Obamacare is a disaster in the making.
It is true that the liberals "don't provide a way out" very easily as you state. Of course, there are huge incentives in place to ensure this remains the case. Dependents become a reliable voting bloc for liberals. Why should liberals foster self reliance, other than it being the right thing to do? They would be creating conservatives and undermining their own power. Real solutions would create real problems for the left.
My own conclusions that I have come to over the years, in no particular order: The left has done a masterful job of convincing society that their motives are pure and that conservatives are heartless, or greedy, homophobic, Islamphobic, sexist etc.... and that conservatives are far less skilled at advancing their philosophy, in part because they are largely shut out of institutions that promulgate political points of view such as the education system, media, Hollywood and so on. Liberal "solutions" often sound good at first but often fail spectacularly while the opposite is sometimes true of conservative notions. Example, tax breaks often result in revenue increases for government. Government solutions tend to create winners and losers and pit them against one another. The competitive nature of private markets would be more effective in differentiating freeloaders from people truly in need. Generally speaking, the left does not seem to care as much as they claim. If they did, they would embrace school choice. Many inner city black people, but not near enough, are figuring this out. Conservatives are far from perfect, Republicans even less so, but by no means do I conclude that liberals care more, and even less do I think their methods are effective in helping the less fortunate, by and large.
And to all who made it this far, I apologize for the length of this post.