August 11, 2012

Conservatives lie about welfare

We’re Gonna Scapegoat Like It’s 1995: Welfare and the Never-Ending Lies of the American RightIn the pantheon of right-wing dog whistles, none is as tried, true, and generally effective as “welfare” bashing. Ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, who fabricated tales of a “welfare queen” collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash benefits by using multiple identities and Social Security numbers, conservatives have known that articulating an inchoate rage against welfare spending and recipients, who are cast as irresponsible leeches, living off the rest of us, pays real political dividends. Even though welfare reform in the mid-1990s largely eliminated no-strings-attached cash assistance from the nation’s social safety net, millions of Americans act as if nothing ever changed, as if welfare reform never happened. They are just as upset about it today as they were twenty years ago, which is why Mitt Romney and his surrogates at FOX News, along with commentators like Rush Limbaugh, continue to hammer the theme of undeserving poor people, getting handouts while they sit on the couch, don’t work, and (according to Romney’s latest campaign commercial), are poised to be let out of whatever presumably minimal work requirements have existed for the past 16 years, thanks to the liberalism of Barack Obama.

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.
And:Of course, there would be no reason to discuss this as a racial issue—as an issue for the white working and middle class—unless it was fully understood by the person discussing it in that manner that the image of welfare recipients (the “takers” in Limbaugh’s formulation) was something other than white. By discussing this matter in racial terms, it is quite apparent that Limbaugh knows what he’s doing, and what the popular imagery of welfare recipients is: it’s black and brown folks, eating bonbons and having babies out of wedlock, while salt-of-the-Earth white men break their backs and pay the taxes that help support them in their idleness. It is blatant. It is transparent. And of course, it is thoroughly dishonest on multiple levels.

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.
Comment:  This has relevance for Indians in two ways:

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 killed the Indians tamed the wilderness. So the white bright light of civilization could go forth and multiply as God commanded.

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."


Anonymous said...

The welfare system was imported from Europe and statistically today, the highest amount of welfare go to white, low income females. Studies show that states with Indian reservations and small communities actually refuse and deny most natives that apply for social services under the presumption that native people do not pay taxes, do not work and hold no empolyable skills when in fact, many natives leave their homelands to seek educational and employment opportunities. The stereotypical "lazy Indian" scenario just doesn't ride anymore since conservatives have made sure that only white lower income families recieve benefits over minorities, but further than that, for decades minorities and Indians in particular were/are disenfranchised from colleges, jobs and social services altogether. Conservatives are decades ahead of the game with pushing false information and media propaganda. Its how the word LIBERAL became a bad word when by its very definition (see definition) liberal, or liberalism holds all the good qualities of a civilized party that somehow Republicans try to hijack, but drop the ball at every opportunity. If conservatism wants to survive in the new digital age and millenia, it has to grow up and evolve into a party of inclusion rather than a party of exclusion and I don't see it happening if many gay Republicans remaining in the closet as bigots that eventually get outed via scandal, or racist conservatives that do not accept minorities as viable American citizens with something to offer the party.
After all, conservatives are okay with welfare as long as socialism applies to not taxing the churchs; corporate welfare that turns out to be fraudulent and inflated defense costs that turn out to be wasted tax dollars. I think most Americans turn into communist when it comes to regulating Indian gaming though, so wheres all this talk about free enterprise. I doubt you could get the federal government to bail out a casino.

dmarks said...

" it is quite apparent that Limbaugh knows what he’s doing, and what the popular imagery of welfare recipients is: it’s black and brown folks, eating bonbons..."

It is kind of odd to call the anti-welfare attitude in general racist, because last time I checked, whites in poverty outnumbered the total of nonwhites of ANY economic level.

"conservatives have made sure that only white lower income families recieve benefits over minorities,"

Now this claim by Anon is interesting. While most who get welfare are white, last time I knew, a lot of nonwhites also get it. Do you have anything to back up the assertion that no minority families get welfare anymore?

"After all, conservatives are okay with welfare as long as socialism applies to not taxing the churchs"

There's no connection. Not taxing something (not stealing from someone) has nothing to do with "socialism".

"...corporate welfare..."

Whatever it was decades ago, the tables have been turned, and liberals are the champions of corporate welfare and conservatives oppose it now. At least since the middle of the Bush administration, when the massive handouts such as TARP, auto industry etc came up.

" I doubt you could get the federal government to bail out a casino."

Obama gave an unnecessary $40 handout to the auto industry. He says he wants to do this to all industries. Well, as gaming is an industry, what you doubt might actually happen.

Anonymous said...

There is such a thing as dog-whistle politics, though.

dmarks said...

Yes, and this is not it.

dmarks said...

Also: " And they don't deserve any of our hard-earned money via Obamacare or welfare."

With Obamacare being the 4th highest tax increase in history, perhaps we can said say they don't deserve thair hard-earned money taken by Obamacare.

Anonymous said...

You counter arguments are always weak Dmarks.