It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They’re completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country.
Of course they’re narcissists. I have yet to meet a conservative of any stripe whose political “principles,” when it comes right down to it, do not distill to “I’ve got mine, fuck you. And, especially, fuck them.”
Seventeen months later, I have still yet to meet one. (Surprise, surprise.) Sometimes conservatives are very good at covering this up. They cloak their stunning selfishness in rhetoric that sounds compassionate or sensible, at least on the surface. But scratch a little deeper, and it is lurking right there. Always.
Which brings us to a loooong piece in The New York Times, entitled Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It. Throughout the article, the authors spout plenty of conventional “wisdom,” toss around cherry-picked numbers, and attempt to spin the hypocrisy and narcissism of their conservative interviewees to support it. In short: it is the looking glass version of Taibbi’s piece. A tour de force of selective bullshit. What is missing from the analysis is the real story.
Rather than suggesting that you read the entire dreary screed, let us instead play the “I’ve got mine, fuck you — and especially, fuck them.” game, and see if we cannot readily spot exactly that sentiment in some excerpts. Readers who prefer a more challenging exercise can simultaneously play the “WTF? Relevant facts are omitted” game. (It will not prove to be much more of a challenge.)
On page 1 of the online version, we meet one Mr. Gulbranson, who lives in Chisago County, a suburb of northeast Minneapolis:
[Gulbranson] owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.
Oh? Well good for Mr. Gulbranson. I would just like to note here that if he ever did need help from the federal government, I would gladly support it with my tax dollars. After all, he is a fellow citizen and we are all in this together — in the most prosperous country in the world, ever.
He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means.
[Citation needed, Mr. Gulbranson.]
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.
Why, if I did not know what a principled conservative Mr. Gulbranson is, I might get the impression that he is “leaning on taxpayers rather than living within his means.”
Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.
Mr. Gulbranson and the many other residents who describe themselves as “self-sufficient members of the American middle class” are, in reality, not. Does anyone believe that on his $39,000.00 salary he could pay for his mom’s two hip surgeries? ‘Cuz unless mom is independently wealthy, she certainly would not be able to pay for those herself.
Okay, quiz time: “I’ve got mine, fuck you — and especially, fuck them?” CHECK. Mr. Gulbranson and his family are receiving taxpayer-funded benefits in order to live a decent quality of life. The problem, according to him, is that too many other Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. Right.
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it.
Interesting that middle class families “land in the safety net” and receive taxpayer-funded government benefits. But they sure are steamin’ mad about it, because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. OMFG I hate undeserving Other People!
But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives.
Sure, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. And yet they actually hoover up every benefit they can possibly get. I am reminded of something here…what was it again? Oh, that’s right, I have it right here: it’s the sadism symptom cluster of Conservative Personality Disorder:
-sadism: pronounced empathy deficit; taking pleasure in others’ pain or misfortune; pettiness and viciousness; willingness to block the provision of benefits to oneself in order to deny benefits to despised “others”…
Pop quiz: “I’ve got mine, fuck you — and especially, fuck them?” CHECK. Oh, yes — especially, fuck them.
Now we get to the slimy mendacity of the authors — and we’re still only on page 1:
The problem by now is familiar to most. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt.
So “the problem” — familiar to most, mind you — is that politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues? And this is the primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt?
I think not. While it is true that there have been no commensurate increases in tax revenues to keep up with benefits for the
struggling imploding American middle class, this is understating the case to put it mildly. For you see, there have actually been tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens among us. I had thought that these were more or less commonly known as the “Bush tax cuts,” but unfortunately these writers and their editors at the Times have never heard of them. There are also a couple unfunded wars they may want to look into, since those were launched “without a commensurate increase in revenues,” too. Oh, and a steep and enduring economic downturn that decimated tax revenue, the proximate cause of which is conservative economic policy: repealing Glass-Steagall, deregulating the banks, outsourcing American jobs, wage stagnation, union-busting, the increasing financialization of our economy, etc. Yeah, they might want to do a little light reading on that stuff, too. I know things are tough at the Times and all, but maybe there is some sort of archive that their professional staff can access to learn about these things?
Because that is what is actually driving the deficits:
The deficit without these factors is near zero.
So “the problem” — you know, the actual, real problem — is apparently not familiar to most: not to writers and editors at The New York Times, nor to their readers who rely on it for information, and definitely not to the people interviewed for this story. I wonder why that is? Gee, if only there were some news organization with an enormous readership that could set the record straight. Alas, none come to mind. *sigh*
Test time! “Relevant facts omitted?” A big fat CHECK.
Let us now take a peek at page 2, shall we?
But the reality of life here is that Mr. Gulbranson and many of his neighbors continue to take as much help from the government as they can get. When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears. It is much easier to promise future restraint than to deny present needs.
Cognitive dissonance: it’s a pain in the ass, ain’t it? It is human nature to promise future restraint rather than to deny present needs. But I would add that it is even easier still to demand restraint on the part of Others, in the future and in the present, than to sacrifice your own sense of entitlement. If you’re a narcissist, anyway.
“How do you tell someone that you deserve to have heart surgery and you can’t?” Mr. Gulbranson said.
“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.
You know, our friend Mr. Gulbranson has almost figured it out — almost. He is certainly right that “you have to help and have compassion as a people, because otherwise you have no society,” and that “financially you can’t destroy yourself.” Whether “that is what we’re doing” is debatable, but let us grant for the sake of argument that it is true. If there is a reason that Mr. Gulbranson is unable to resolve his dilemma, it is because he is wrestling with a false dilemma. He believes, incorrectly, that the help and compassion our society provides in the form of a safety net is destroying the country financially. And hey, it’s not as if The New York Times is going to set him straight any time soon.
And what pearls might await us on page 3? Well, it is mainly a morass of selective facts and dire warnings about the expected explosion of Medicare costs and what this bodes for the deficit, without once mentioning that those costs are unnecessarily and enormously inflated, and that a solution to this problem exists: Medicare for all. No, I definitely don’t recommend reading page 3 at all. But while we’re here let’s look at two little sentences:
Medicare is often described as an insurance program, but its premiums are not nearly high enough. In simple terms, Americans are getting more than they pay for.
Flat-out, fuckety false. Americans are getting way less than they pay for.
U.S. citizens are already paying more than enough to have a world-class, first-rate, single payer health care system. But they are not getting one. There are two big reasons for this. First, private health insurers are enormous, bloodsucking parasites, with their massive tentacles tightly wrapped around just about everyone working in Washington, DC. These companies continue to rake in record profits, year after year, while their bureaucracy and paperwork cost us one-third of every health care dollar spent in this country. These are just facts. As Physicians for a National Health Program point out, simply streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion a year. That is enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans. Anyone who claims to be serious about either health care for Americans or the budget and is not a staunch, unwavering advocate for a single payer system is a liar. This is also just a fact.
Okay, kiddies: “Relevant facts omitted” on page 3? Um, CHECK.
Okay, just one more teeny tiny quote from page 3:
But many older residents in Chisago say this problem belongs to younger generations. They paid what they were told; they want to collect what they were promised.
“I’ve got mine, fuck you” FTW.
Page 4 is comprised almost entirely of the story of some flaming asshole Teabagger who got elected to Congress and promptly voted to privatize Medicare, blah-blah-blah. There is nothing to recommend page 4 at all, except for one heartwrenching quote from a 71 year old woman who survives — barely — on Social Security and Medicare:
“I haven’t bought a Christmas present, I haven’t bought clothing in the last five years, simply because I can’t afford it.”
Page 5 turns out to be much more promising: at least it offers us an interesting factoid or two (not that we can believe a word of it, given the abysmal track record of the authors of this piece). If true, this is interesting:
One of the oldest criticisms of democracy is that the people will inevitably drain the treasury by demanding more spending than taxes. The theory is that citizens who get more than they pay for will vote for politicians who promise to increase spending.
But 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, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.
Huh. I wonder if it can be explained by intelligence: maybe conservatives are so stupid that they don’t even know they’re stupid? Or it could be that Republicans have expertly exploited conservatives’ petty narcissism and tribalism, and that none of this has anything to do with the spending per se — it’s all about the spending on you-know-who. Those people. People who are not me.
Brian Qualley, 49, has a sister who survived a brain tumor but was disabled by its removal. The government pays for her care at an assisted-living facility. Their mother scrapes by on Social Security.
Mr. Qualley said that the government should provide for those who need help, but that too much money was being wasted.
[Citation needed, Mr. Qualley.] Money is always being wasted: have you seen what people spend on congressional campaigns? With respect to government services, we should all focus on plugging up the holes, for example by reducing fraudulent claims for government assistance. Alternatively, of course, we could instead just scrap all of the government programs that millions of Americans — including Mr. Qualley and his family— rely on just to get by, because dog forbid a small percentage of money is wasted. Yep. Better to shitcan the whole shebang, than spend one single dollar on some Other person who doesn’t deserve it, because they are not me.
Mr. Qualley, who owns a tattoo parlor in Harris, north of North Branch, said some of his customers paid with money from government disability checks.
Oh? So some of his business revenue comes from the government, via some of his customers who are on disability.
“They’re getting $300 or $400 tattoos, and they’re wearing nice new Nike shoes that I can’t afford,” he said, looking up from working a complicated design into the left leg of a middle-aged woman. “I guess I shouldn’t say it because it’s my business, but I think a tattoo is a little too extravagant.”
Clearly, too much money is being wasted on “some” of Mr. Qualley’s customers, who receive disability benefits and then have the temerity to wear nice new shoes and get tattoos at his shop. Were the shoes a gift? Did his customer receive a little inheritance, maybe a payout from a lawsuit over their disability, or were they unexpectedly able to do a little work? Well, we don’t know. But we do know for sure that they’re definitely Other people, and therefore that’s just… wrong.
You know what else we don’t know? How many people relying on government subsidies — like the woman mentioned earlier who hasn’t bought Christmas presents or clothes in five years — do not even dream of getting the tiniest little tattoo. There are millions of them, but somehow I doubt they even cross Mr. Qualley’s mind. But all it takes is one or two customers on disability wearing badass sneakers to validate Mr. Qualley’s pet theory that the government is wasting too much money. But not on him, of course. His family needs and deserves it.
“I’ve got mine, fuck you?” I’ll leave this one to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Which brings us finally to page 6. We are introduced to yet another “conservative” who hates the idea of government assistance — but lives on it anyway:
Gordy Peterson, 62, who has used a wheelchair for 30 years since a construction accident, has reluctantly reached a similar conclusion.
“I’m a conservative,” he said by way of introducing himself. He built his own house before his injury and paid for it in cash. He still thinks the government should operate that way. He never intended to depend on federal aid and said he sometimes felt guilty about it.
But for the last three decades, he has received a regular check from the Social Security disability insurance program, and Medicare has helped to pay his medical bills.
Gosh, this story seems familiar. *yawn*
Mr. Peterson used a workers’ compensation settlement to buy a farm that he managed with his brother-in-law, who is mentally handicapped and also on government disability.
Workers’ compensation is not exactly a central plank of conservatism.
They grew corn, soybeans and rye, and even kept steers for a while. In good years they earned enough to live on. In bad years they lived on the government’s checks. Life would have been very difficult without them, he said.
Mr. Peterson, an easygoing man who looks down when he thinks and smiles sheepishly when he offers an opinion, looked down after completing the story of his own dependence on the safety net.
“It’s hard to beat up on the government when they’ve been so good to you,” he finally said. “I’ve never really thought about it, I guess.”
It’s a lot easier to beat up the government when they’re good to someone else.
Conservative economic policies have devastated the middle class over the last 30 years — deregulation, outsourcing, wage stagnation, the financialization of our economy, etc. — and overall, American standards of living have cratered and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And yet the same wingnuts who enabled all of this want more of it. They cannot get enough.
The cult of self-sufficiency is a dangerous myth. Humans are a social species: our interdependency is just a fact, no matter how stratified our society may be. The number of our fellow citizens who are truly self-sufficient is vanishingly small: How many American families grow all of their own food on their own land, make their own clothes from the fibers at hand, build housing from their own timber, home-school their children using only their own ingenuity, and never receive professional health care? Is it even possible for any significant fraction of 311 million American people to live this way within the geographic borders of the U.S.? More important, how many Americans would want to?
I would bet that even our friend Mr. Gulbranson would not.
The (allegedly) more sophisticated conservative argument goes like this: private industry and free markets are the best solution to every problem, and in any event they are always better than a government solution. Conservatives have gone so far with this “logic” that they have even privatized the U.S. fucking military. But this argument is demonstrably, abjectly, irredeemably false. Healthcare is but one instance where it is beyond dispute that a government-run, single-payer system for universal health care is by far the best system ever devised by humans, for health and for the bottom line. This is why the arguments one hears in opposition to it all boil down to nothing other than “I’ve got mine, fuck you.”
Yet here we have writers at The New York Times spewing dire warnings about the debt, the deficit, and the ballooning costs of medical care, and not even once mentioning the Bush tax cuts, the wars, the recession and its direct causes, or our for-profit health care system.
The conventional “wisdom” is not concerned with whether we ought to gut the social safety net, but when (right now!), by how much (all of it!), and for whom (other people!).
Conservative bullshit: it’s what’s for dinner.