Kudos to Nona Willis Aronowitz and the sharp folks at GOOD Magazine for shedding light on a study that half of Americans who get government aid swear they don’t. You read that right folks — the very same people who receive Medicare and even welfare benefits, for crying out loud, deny that they benefit from government aid and keep right on repeating those anti-government conservative talking points. As if we needed any more evidence that we have entered a Twilight Zone-esque universe of anti-logic.
Here’s the chart from the Cornell study:
Half of people getting federal student loans don’t think they’ve ever used a government social program. Forty percent of Medicare recipients have no idea their health insurance is funded by the state. And 25 percent of the people receiving that emblem of All That Is Bad About Big Government, welfare, don’t connect that paycheck to the “enemy.” Given the fact that one in six Americans use anti-poverty programs alone, there’s a hell of a lot of people who are deluded about how much the government helps them out.
Aronowitz rightly argues the point isn’t (just) that these folks are hypocrites (though they are) but the larger cultural and political implications of a mindset that government help is about them not us. Part of the conservative attack on public spending and entitlement programs is to race bait the debate and suggest that only poor black people get help from government, when in fact government is overwhelmingly controlled by and manipulated for the benefit of wealthy white CEOs and big business. But even old grandmas and new entrepreneurs benefit from government.
In fact, I’d challenge anyone to come up with an example of supposedly individual success in America that didn’t benefit in some way from collective, government infrastructure. Go ahead, try me.
I am a Democrat. But more importantly, I am an American. And as President of the United States of America, I have put the economic needs of our entire nation ahead of the political agenda of my party. At times of great urgency, that is what great leaders do.
Your government has spent money, like it or not. And now, the bills are due. Our fundamental solvency and credibility depends on keeping our promises and paying those debts.
The private sector is, in fact, recovering. Corporate profits and CEO bonuses have once again reached record highs. And big businesses are sitting on billions, by some accounts, trillions of unspent capital. They’re piling up profits and not creating jobs. No one is blaming them for that. But at a time of anemic economic growth and opportunity for the rest of us, government must be the spender of last resort. This is, in fact, why our Founding Fathers gave government the power to levy taxes and borrow money — recognizing the important role of government, especially in trying economic times.
So at a time when government spending is needed more than ever, the fact that we’re even talking about spending cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling is a massive victory for the Republican ideology. When the economy is good, they want to cut spending and cut taxes. When the economy is bad, they also want to cut spending and cut taxes. And so far, they’ve gotten their way.
To avoid the disastrous calamity that both sides of the aisle agree would result from our nation defaulting on its debts, I have compromised. Angering many in my own party, stirring the ire of many who voted for me, I have been willing to negotiate over $2 trillion in cuts to government programs that I and many working Americans know are vital. But I have done this because Republicans have left our nation with no other options — they are holding our economic future hostage in order to advance their long-held anti-government, pro-big business agenda.
Fine. I came to the table. I was willing to compromise, to work out a deal. But I should have known there’s no negotiating with ideological terrorists. In addition to the historic cuts Republicans want to extract in exchange for their vote on the debt ceiling, they are refusing any tax increases on the richest of the richest of the rich. To be clear — no one is blaming big business or the rich for their success. But we all know that for too long the rules of the game have been rigged to favor the few over the many — and even now, 88% of the gains from our sputtering economic recovery have gone not to wages and benefits for average working people but into the pockets of Wall Street. Just as businesses in the past were successful because of government highways and electric grids, big businesses today are successful largely because of the extraordinary measures you the taxpayer took to rescue the private sector. Now, at a time when ordinary taxpayers are still struggling, it is noble and honorable to ask CEOs and big business to pay more.
The great conservative hero Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times during his presidency not because he wanted to but because he knew he had to. Today, over three-quarters of Americans agree that we should raise taxes on the richest of the rich — and oppose the kinds of drastic cuts to Medicare and Social Security that Republicans are proposing instead. But it appears Republicans are willing to blow up our entire economy and endanger our collective future rather than negotiate in good faith a set of incremental tax increases on millionaires and billionaires as part of a deal that mostly includes the sorts of spending cuts they favor.
They have left me with no choice. As Commander in Chief, I refuse to let our nation be threatened and terrorized — whether from abroad or from within. The Republicans have two options: Accept a deal that includes a set of fair tax increases on millionaires and billionaires, or willfully violate the Constitution and force the United States to default on its debt for the first time in history. The choice is theirs. Unfortunately, the consequences will be borne by all of us.
When the economy is strong, conservatives want to cut taxes for the rich. When the economy is weak, conservatives want to cut taxes for the rich. When a mentally insane man with easy access to guns tries to assassinate a sitting Member of Congress, conservatives twist all logic to argue for even easier access to guns — while cutting taxes.
Sometimes it takes a cartoon to show how silly real life is.
Watch and share:
Welcome to a brand new series here at the Movement Vision Lab, combining thoughtful (and correct) political education and analysis with good ol’ fashion ranting and raving. In this case, I couldn’t take watching one more episode of Glenn Beck’s notorious show on Fox News without responding. So I have.
In this first episode, I debunk Beck’s claim that communism and fascism go hand-in-hand and are the goals of the progressive movement. Instead, I explain what progressives are actually working toward.
Watch it. Share it. And post comments with your ideas for future episodes.
I’ve had a similar interaction several times recently. It goes something like this:
Me: I’m interested in how radical ideas become possible.
Them: Oh, you mean like how there weren’t enough votes to pass the public option?
Me: No, that’s a policy. And anyway, that’s not even the radical policy. We all know that was single payer.
Them: Oh, so you mean single payer?
Me: Nope, still a policy. An idea is broad, a concept, something that gets manifest in policy.
Them: Ah, like equality? Or fairness?
Me: No (now with a hint of frustration in my voice but trying to hide it), that’s a value.
Them: I’m confused.
At which point in the discussion, I try to breakdown roughly my understanding of the difference between values, ideas and policies — which may seem academic, but frankly, it helps when as a field we at least all know we mean roughly the same thing when we use the same words, but also for a progressive infrastructure that is acutely focused on policies but deeply lacking in transformative ideas, the tendency to conflate the two simply masks this profound problem.
Just as it was easier to explain to my kid the body parts of humans by pointing to the body parts of a stuffed cat, let’s use the Right wing as an example.
The Right believes in segregation, that we are not all equal and those who are inferior (morally, economically, racially, spiritually) can and should rightfully be separated from those who are superior (and those who are superior because of God-given or hard-earned talents and not because of flaws in any “system”). In their value system, it is unjust to force those who are naturally superior to co-mingle with those who are inferior. Segregation, while maybe not explicit, is implicitly a Right wing value.
Because of their values, Right-wing conservatives want social, political and economic structures to allow for — or, in fact, encourage — segregation rather than mandating integration and pluralism. Therefore, they spread the idea that freedom is about the choice to be separate, that (borrowing a page from liberal rights rhetoric) anything less infringes on individual expression. The idea here, albeit a highly misleading one, is that segregation is freedom and choice (where as integration is forced, imposed, against our will).
The policies, then, are things like school vouchers or charter schools, specific public or private practices that implement the idea of “freedom of choice” in social, economic and political institutions and promote the value of segregation throughout society. It’s easy here to get confused, since school vouchers are “an idea” for how to concretize “freedom of choice” in the school setting. But really, these are policies — concrete expressions of an idea that can actually be implemented to engrain that idea more and more deeply in our universe.
Now a progressive example.
Americans believe that all human life has value. It’s why we oppose holocausts and genocides, why we criminalize murder. [We sometimes make exceptions for when you do something heinously wrong (i.e., capital punishment) but part of the reason we're still debating the legality of capital punishment (and should be doing so even more vigorously) is because it conflicts with this deeply held, American value.]
And if we value human life, we value preserving it. That’s why we care for sick people in hospitals, even if they don’t have health insurance. Caring equally for all human life is a core value.
Valuing human life equally doesn’t necessarily translate into the idea of universal health care. The idea becomes attached to or associated with the value (or one or more values) as part of its popularization. Arguably, it is only in the last century that valuing human life was remotely associated with health care. Before, it might have meant access to jobs or the vote — that is, when the value was even ascendent (vs. during slavery, internment camps, etc.). But beginning in the early 1930s and moving forward, an idea was spread by progressives that if we value all human life, it is our collective role (vis-a-vis government) to ensure quality health care for each and every one of us. That idea, which has risen and fallen over the decades, with the rise and fall of the core value itself, leading to Medicaid and Medicare but also rollbacks on immigrant services in the 1990s, is being again tapped to advance health care reform today.
How we do it, how we concretize the idea of our collective duty to provide quality care for all, those are policies. Whether single payer, public option, regulation of private insurance, the marketplace structure… these are policy options. True, some play to certain ideas more than others. Single payer is most true to the idea I’ve laid out here, while the marketplace concept apes the private sector and reinforces the center-Right idea that the best way to provide any service to the public is through private markets. It’s worth noting that you could hold that idea and still share the value of human life. That’s why I think these distinctions are so important. Left, right and center, we often argue over policies as though we disagree about core values — and sometimes, we do. But certainly the left-center breakdown over health care reform (which is really strangling us right now) is about ideas not values. I truly believe that the centrists in Congress value all human life (maybe not quite as much as their own, but still…) but we have disagreements about the ideas those values point us toward, the ideas that should shape not only our health care system but our larger society (which, observers correctly point out, however we implement health care reform will certainly do).
I think that by focusing our political arguments narrowly on policies, or grandly on values, we’re often missing the crux of the contention, the ideas that we believe are the best expression of often-shared values but, in choosing one set of ideas versus another, point in very different practical directions.
The definition of the word “ideology” is the study of ideas. I think we need more ideologues and not just policy wonks.
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