Us and Them Again

As noted in an update to the post below, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is having their annual convention, which means leading Republican politicians are getting the chance to express their deepest thoughts. So Senator Rubio of Florida got the opportunity to explain why Franklin Roosevelt had it all wrong — we should be very, very afraid.

Also today, Congressman Paul Ryan highlighted the difference between the right and the left by telling the story of a Wisconsin kid who’d prefer bringing his own lunch to school instead of mooching off the rest of us by getting a lunch at taxpayer expense.

Juliet Lapidos of the New York Times points out Congressman Ryan’s underlying, contradictory assumption:

[Ryan] argued that Americans want to work — every bit as much as the Republican Party wants them to work. “People don’t just want a life of comfort,” he said. “They want a life of dignity. They want a life of self-determination”….

In Mr. Ryan’s view, Americans would rather depend on themselves, or their families, than on the government. And yet, in Mr. Ryan’s view, if these same Americans gain access to government programs, they’ll jump at the chance to abandon their responsibilities, effectively exchanging a “life of dignity” for a “life of comfort.”

That doesn’t make sense. If all or most Americans, like the kid in Wisconsin, want their own lunch rather than a government lunch, then the prospect of a government lunch won’t change their behavior.

Ryan doesn’t notice the contradiction, since he thinks of his fellow citizens as Us and Them. On one hand, there are the honorable, hard-working Americans who hate the idea of getting help from the government (you know who they are). On the other hand, there are the dishonorable, lazy Americans who want nothing more than to live off government handouts (you know who they are too).

This is the same point I tried to make recently in a comment on another blog. There is a strange dichotomy between how Republicans expect poor people and rich people to respond to financial incentives:

— People who are struggling should receive as little financial assistance as possible, because helping them will only discourage them from becoming productive members of society. After all, they’re not really motivated to increase their incomes beyond the bare minimum. In their case, therefore, less income will translate into more work, and more income will translate into less work.

— People who aren’t struggling should receive as much financial assistance as possible, especially in the form of lower taxes, because helping them will encourage them to become even more productive members of society. In their case, more income will translate into more work, while less income will translate into less work!

It isn’t fun at all being poor or unemployed, but Republicans believe that making life as difficult as possible for the economy’s losers will convince them to do better. That’s because they’re not like us. They don’t care about improving their situations and they don’t respond to economic incentives the way normal people do.

Less money for the poor, so they will work harder; more money for the rich, so they will work harder. It makes perfect sense!

(Note: I’m going to try to lay off writing about right-wingers for a while. Maybe I’ll try fashion reporting. Or poetry! “There once was a girl from Nantucket, …”)

3 thoughts on “Us and Them Again

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