NYTimes: The Anti-Government Republican Base is Totally Dependent On Government
In a revealing testament to the confused, human wreckage strewn across America in the wake of thirty-plus years' carpet-bombing by the right-wing noise machine, of poisonous AM talk radio all day and Fox News all night, of finger-pointing, race-baiting political ads, of welfare queen straw men and endless scapegoats of varying shades of brown, the New York Times today examines those struggling Middle Class Americans who collect government benefits in one hand and hold up a protest sign in the other, angrily warning the government to keep its hands off their Medicare.
The article is titled "Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend On It" and points out the stark disconnect between the anti-government rhetoric and the government-subsidized lives of many who spew it.
This is the key statistic in understanding just how successful the Norquists and Luntzes and Limbaughs have been in convincing Americans that their government is the enemy:
Almost half of all Americans lived in households that received government benefits in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The share climbed from 37.7 percent in 1998 to 44.5 percent in 2006, before the recession, to 48.5 percent in 2010.
The trend reflects the expansion of the safety net. When the earned-income credit was introduced in 1975, eligibility was limited to households making the current equivalent of up to $26,997. In 2010, it was available to families making up to $49,317. The maximum payout, meanwhile, quadrupled on an inflation-adjusted basis.
It also reflects the deterioration of the middle class.
The numbers reflect the reality--more and more Middle Class Americans are beneficiaries of some sort of government assistance, be it tax credits to increasingly strapped families, Medical coverage through Medicare to an aging population, or Social Security and SSI. The collision of that reality with a rabid anti-government mindset painstakingly inculcated by decades of demonization of all things government from Reagan to Romney is the subject matter here.
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
Reliance on government is growing, not shrinking, in the aftermath of the 'Great Recession." And the same folks who shouted down their Congresspersons at Town Hall meetings in 2009 are relying more and more on the social safety net to stay alive.
The personal stories explored in this article are painful to read because the disconnect between the slogans they spew and their personal behavior is maddening. You just want to shake your head in sorrow. This portrait of a tea party activist is typical:
He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.
Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.
The most dispiriting aspect of these stories is that guys like Gulbranson do show dim signs of awareness of the problem, but because they've been completely brainwashed by right-wing propaganda they're utterly unable to conceive of a solution:
“You have to help and have compassion as a people, because otherwise you have no society, but financially you can’t destroy yourself. And that is what we’re doing.”
He paused again, unable to resolve the dilemma.
“I feel bad for my children.”
He feels bad for his children. That's what thirty years of Republican philosophy has left him for a legacy. Not: "wait a minute, there's something wrong here," not, "why has my pay stagnated for ten years while my boss's has tripled," but "I feel bad for my children."
Another woman, living solely off Social Security in a Senior Center in Chisago county, Minnesota, recovering from an operation paid for by Medicare:
She believes that she is taking more from the government than she paid in taxes. She worries about the consequences for her grandchildren. She said she would like politicians to propose solutions.
“We’re reasonable people,” she said. “We’re not going to say, ‘Give it to me and let my grandchildren suffer.’ I think they underestimate seniors when they think that way.”
But she cannot imagine asking people to pay higher taxes. And as she considered making do with less, she started to cry.
It's unclear why this woman "can't imagine" asking people to pay higher taxes. She doesn't seem to be the type of person who would jump to defend millionaires. It's probably reasonable to assume she has no inkling of the wealth disparity that exists in this country. Because that's information that until very recently wasn't discussed in any media space this woman was likely to encounter.
And then there are people like this man, a Tea Party voter who along with his family cares for a disabled daughter. The nature of the daughter's disability is not described in the article, but it appears to be serious enough to require special assistance at school and constant attendant home care. While he is grateful for the assistance, the father is quick to point out that he could get by with less:
Mr. Falk, who voted for Mr. Cravaack [A Tea Party Republican], said he did not want to pay higher taxes and did not want the government to impose higher taxes on anyone else. He said that his family appreciated the government’s help and that living with less would be painful for them and many other families. But he said the government could not continue to operate on borrowed money.
“They’re going to have to reduce benefits,” he said. “We’re going to have to accept it, and we’re going to have to suffer.”
Mr Falk is not asked whether he would be willing to forego the benefits currently paying for his daughter's home care if it would mean less "suffering" for everyone else. We can only assume what his answer would be.
Interestingly, none of the people profiled in this article are asked about income inequality or whether they believe the wealthy are paying their fair share. That curious omission is never explained. Nor would it seem to be beyond the New York Times to explain the most startling statistic of all:
Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.
Conversely, the states that pay more taxes but receive less in benefits tend to support Democrats. The article notes that Dean Lacy of Dartmouth could not explain the pattern by demographics or social issues.
With all respect to Dartmouth University, I suspect the explanation can be attributed to the predatory nature of a modern Republican party whose survival depends on a currency of division and blame. Like any predator, the GOP prefers to prey on the weak. Those most likely to need government assistance are also those in economic straits ripe for exploitation through bias and racial prejudice. The Republican Party has never had any deficits in creating scapegoats. It's not surprising that the less fortunate segments of our society--and the poorest states--should be vulnerable to the ready-made platitudes of the GOP. The constant, repeated theme is less a lack of their own entitlement but the "undeserved" entitlement of others. That is an attractive theme for people whose own economic circumstances somehow never match up with the illusions of wealth they've been fed through the media over a lifetime.
And sadly, like any predator, the Republican party won't stop eating. It lives to consume, constantly chewing up and spitting out those Americans who for whatever reason are predisposed to buy into its credo. The people profiled in this article, with their desperation, pride and confusion, are just another in its long line of victims.
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