The New York Times recently published two pieces shedding light on the most mysterious – and, to Democrats, the most frustrating – fact of American political life: that those conservative-voting “red” states consume far more federal government “entitlements” benefits than liberal-voting “blue” states.
This is both mysterious and frustrating because the Republican Party, including each of their current candidates for the presidential nomination, rails against what they call “the welfare state.”
According to the GOP, the so-called “welfare state” discourages Americans – in their view, blacks and Hispanics – from seeking honest work. But, as the Times article points out, most of the recipients of government benefits are white conservatives who are retired or disabled. What makes people such as these vote against their own interests?
Shortly after the first article appeared, Paul Krugman, the Times Nobel Prize-winning economist columnist, also explored that conundrum.
Krugman points to an Indiana University study showing that residents of the 10 states ranked by the Gallup Poll as being the “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income from government entitlements, compare to only 17.1 percent for the 10 states Gallup ranked as “most liberal.”
“Wasn’t Red American supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?” Krugman asks.
Many people receiving benefits, Krugman says, either don’t know or won’t admit they are, as conservatives would say, “on the public dole.” He quotes a Cornell University professor’s study that showed 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of unemployment benefit recipients and 40 percent of Medicare recipients claim they have never used a “government program."
I think conservative voters who refuse to admit they’re receiving benefits – even vote for politicians who pledge to take those benefits away from them – do so because they simply can’t admit to themselves they are “on the dole.”
There persists in this country – particularly among conservatives – the idea of “rugged American individualism,” that real Americans pull themselves up by their own boot straps (and other nationalistic clichés). The problem is “rugged American individualism” is more myth than history.
From the very founding of this country, the United States has been a collaborative effort. The U.S. Constitution established this union because the original loose confederation of states wasn’t working.
While mountain men like Jeremiah Johnson may have gone it alone, the majority of those who settled the frontier territories did so as a group. They came in wagon trains for mutual protection, built towns with communal schools and churches, and helped each other build their homes with “barn raisings.” How socialistic can you get?
Yet the more conservative a person gets, it seems, the more they suffer from denial. As a former business newspaper editor, I’ve repeatedly seen business owners and CEOs talk about how they made their fortunes on their own. They never give credit to the government tax breaks and federal small business loans they used to start their businesses.
Yet this “corporate welfare” amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Federal corporate welfare alone amounted to $80-$100 billion dollars a year in the late 1990s – and that didn’t count the corporate welfare delivered at the state and local levels. No one knows how much the federal government spends on corporations today, but with George W. Bush’s $15 billion bail out of the airlines after the 9/11 attacks and his $700 billion bail out of his Wall Street cronies in 2007, it has undoubtedly ballooned.
Like their citizen supporters, conservative politicians criticize these programs while holding their hands out for more.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a perfect example. In his book, Romney compared Social Security to a criminal enterprise. He tells the story about grandparents who create a trust fund to provide for their grandchildren’s education. As the kids grow up, the bank is spending the money from the trust fund on something else. When the kids are ready to go college, there is no money in the trust fund.
“What would happen to the bankers responsible for misusing the money?” Romney writes. “They would go to jail.”
Besides the fact that Romney appears ignorant of how banks do business – they do, in fact, spend your savings on something else (they call them investments) – it also shows he doesn’t believe he ever drank from the public trough.
Yet Bain Capital, Romney’s infamous vulture capitalist firm, received a $44 million federal bailout in 2001 when the candidate was its CEO. Ten years earlier, in 1991, Romney negotiated a $10 million federal bail out for Bain that kept the corporation from bankruptcy and dissolution.
Romney’s current competitor, Rick Santorum, is no better. Despite railing against government benefit programs, he has sucked repeatedly at the public teat, raking in somewhere between $40,000 and $100,000 from a Pennsylvania home schooling program while his family actually lived in Virginia.
Romney’s and Santorum’s libertarian opponent, Ron Paul, and his half-crazed son, Rand Paul, are ardent believers in the writings of Libertarian idol Ayn Rand. Rand, a self-righteous, fascist writer who preached sociopathic – some say psychopathic – individualism, ranted against government benefit programs to her dying day.
Fellow Rand devotee, Rep. Paul Ryan, requires everyone who works for him to read Rand’s books. What he doesn’t let them know is that in her old age, Rand lived off Social Security benefits under her married name.
Like other conservatives, Ayn Rand couldn’t be honest with herself either.