Welfare, entitlements and race: The old Republican dog whistle | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 17, 2014

Welfare, entitlements and race: The old Republican dog whistle

Posted By on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 7:01 AM

New York Times opinion writers have pointed things to say about Republican opposition to welfare handouts: 1) Outrage depends on who's getting the handouts and 2) when Paul Ryan says it's not about race, it's about race. The Arkansas legislature evidences the same mindset.

In both cases, Paul Ryan's remark on a culture of dependency, particularly in the inner cities, is the catalyst. First, there's Timothy Egan, who recalls how the British, in refusing help to the starving Irish, talked about how feeding starving children might feed a culture of dependency. Similar themes distinguish Republican politicians' remarks today (Romney's 47 percent who believe they are "entitled" to — food!):

You can’t make these kinds of heartless remarks unless you think the poor deserve their fate — that they have a character flaw, born of public assistance. 

...You never hear Ryan make character judgments about generations of wealthy who live off their inheritance, or farmers who get paid not to grow anything. Nor, for that matter, does he target plutocrats like Romney who might be lulled into not taking risks because they pay an absurdly low tax rate simply by moving money around. Dependency is all one-way.

Paul Krugman today looks at the coded racial message in Ryan's remarks about the shiftless males of the inner city. He's heard that old dog whistle before.

American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees. 

Watch the Arkansas legislature. Under great duress, the Republican majority adopted Obamacare, but only under a more expensive approach to guarantee a fat profit to insurance companies. And even then, they want to keep it secret to whatever extent possible. They believe that prosperity is just around the corner of another rich man's tax break and a living wage for poor people will be our ruination.

That same Arkansas Republican majority approved a whopping capital gains tax break — a total exemption — for gains of greater than $10 million.

Really. The Arkansas legislature required a few drops of blood — co-payments on health care — from working poor making as little as $6,000 a year. But it said the lucky few able to score a $10 million profit on sale of capital (sometimes stock that cost them virtually nothing and, in many cases, is inherited wealth of the Lucky Sperm Club) don't have to pay a SINGLE PENNY in income tax. This, you can be sure, has nothing to do with the mental image in the average Arkansas legislator's mind of what that $6,000-a-year poor person and that cosseted capitalist look like. It must be because the $6,000 worker is driving out to Fresh Market in his 2014 Escalade to buy lobster and foie gras. (What? Don't believe that? Just ask Tom Cotton.)

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