Mind the 'Welfare Wedge:' The Right's Overlooked Ammo in Health Care Sabotage

At the heart of conservative thought is the rule of 'no handouts.' But is falling back on this belief a sign of GOP desperation?

Eric Kleefeld posted a clip that's making the rounds on right-wing blogs featuring a confrontation between a conservative activist and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) at a town-hall meeting.

The activist argued that health care reform is part of an effort to "plunder" from some to benefit those without. "If you are so keen to forcibly take from one person to give to another, who you deem as needier than me," the woman said. "If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this $20 from me and use it as a down payment on this health care plan."

Now, Dicks wisely steered this in another direction, but the activist's complaint touches on part of the right-wing pushback that sometimes goes overlooked. It's not just about paranoia-inspired fears ("death panels"), Republican boilerplate ("socialized medicine"), or even big-picture ideology ("government = bad"). There's also the underlying disgust over the notion of providing coverage to those who don't already have it.

It's been a cornerstone of conservative thought for years: no handouts. The activist who confronted Dicks couldn't have been more clear: she didn't want the government taking her money to give it to "someone else based on their supposed needs." She's got hers; the tens of millions of American who have no coverage aren't her problem.

Ed Kilgore recently had a good item on this tack.

This should be familiar to any political observer over the age of 30 as a new version of the old "welfare wedge": the emotionally powerful conservative argument that Democrats want to use Big Government to take away the good things of life from people who have earned them and give them to people who haven't. [...]

[Y]ou don't have to be a liberal, or a Democrat, or an Obama supporter to be concerned about the return of the "welfare wedge" and with it the savage treatment of hard-pressed working Americans as irresponsible bums who are conspiring toward a socialist society.


Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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