For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that the state waivers advocated by the Obama Administration were actually sought by conservative Republican Governors, and that they would, at least in theory, allow states the flexibility to design better ways of actually helping recipients find jobs. So too, let’s ignore the fact that even welfare reform’s chief advocate, Newt Gingrich, and former GOP operative and architect of the reform, Ron Haskins, have acknowledged that the Romney campaign’s take on the waivers is dishonest. For now, let us simply examine the far larger problem: namely, that the characterization of welfare as some huge program, dispensing massive benefits to the poor, and the characterization of recipients as lazy slackers who sit around collecting checks at taxpayer expense is rooted entirely in fantasy. For conservatives to continue beating this tired drum is to deliberately seek to make an issue where there is none, to scapegoat the poorest and most vulnerable Americans for problems they did not create, and to engage in a kind of class warfare for which the right frankly lives. To criticize the rich is, to hear them tell it, untoward and unbecoming; but to bash the poor is a venerable pastime. To the extent such invective manages to stir up racial resentments (given how racialized the image of welfare recipients has been for the past forty-plus years), all the better, especially when your guy is running against the nation’s first black president. Anything to suggest that Barack Obama is bending over backwards for black folks plays well with the angry white men who increasingly make up the core constituency of the Republican Party.
To begin, there is the simple fact that contrary to popular belief, the numbers of people “receiving checks” from the government (the common imagery and that which is being played upon by Limbaugh) are at an all-time low. So although FOX very cleverly ran a segment recently during which they claimed (and with a graphic no less!) that over 100 million Americans were now receiving “welfare,” that number does not refer to the common understanding of welfare—and the understanding that Limbaugh is deliberately trying to cultivate with his image of people receiving checks—but instead, includes anyone receiving benefits from any government program, targeted to low and moderate income persons, households or communities: what are called “means tested” programs. But a quick look at a recent Congressional Research Service report, included as part of the House Ways and Means Committee’s annual Green Book, which catalogs these programs in detail, indicates how different the reality of government programs and program beneficiaries is, from the common and stereotypical beliefs about both.
1) Historically: When the "Indian problem" was one of America's major issues, the stereotype of the lazy, good-for-nothing Indian emerged. This was nothing but a frontier version of the "welfare queen." We gave them nice empty reservations to farm, but the degenerates refused to toil like good Christians. They simply sat around waiting for government handouts.
2) Present-day: To the extent that today's Indians are welfare recipients, this argument obviously applies to them. A similar argument arises whenever Indians are at issue for another reason. It goes something like this: "Why should we honor treaties/pass laws/do anything for them? They get everything free from the government, and they're making a mint from casinos. All they do is sit around their teepees cashing checks."
So the Indian case is a subset of the general minority case. Conservatives think brown-skins are lazy, good-for-nothing bums. These loafers aren't willing to work hard like the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who founded America and
In short, they just aren't "real Americans." And they don't deserve any of our hard-earned money via Obamacare or welfare. Let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps or die.
For more on Indians as welfare recipients, see Women and Indians as "Welfare Queens" and Republicans Want to "Keep America America."