Friday, March 7, 2014

Paul Ryan and The Hammock Theory: The Poor Deserve Their Fate

"We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."
--Congressman Paul Ryan 

As Paul Krugman points out in Today's New York Times, encased in this sentence are actually two bedrock Republican beliefs:  1. Antipoverty programs breed complacency. 2. The failure of the poor to work as much as they should is what traps them in poverty.

Krugman is correct about what Ryan is saying, but there is more to Ryan's beliefs. This is a belief system Ryan, his fellow country club Republicans, the Koch Brothers, my own colleagues at work who are white bread Republicans, my former Southern neighbors, teachers and gentry all embraced because they needed to embrace it. They all loved Ronald Reagan because he could dismiss the poor and their suffering with a shrug of his shoulders--"There will always be poor," Reagan said, and he let his voice trail off, stating quite unmistakably the part of the sentence he did not have to speak: And there is nothing any of us can do about them, for them. They are not our problem, and we should not feel guilty about their suffering while we eat well, drive expensive cars, enjoy several lavish homes and dream vacations. 

This is simply an echo of what White people used to say about Blacks when Mad Dog was growing up: They are poor because:  1. They are lazy  2. They are stupid 3. They are happy being poor and have no ambition. They are not our fault.

Of course, the rich and the dominant need to feel this way.
They cannot believe they were born on third base and they must believe they deserve all the good things they have earned , that they won their success fair and square, by hard work and that the flip side is the losers lost fair and square. So, as Mr. Ryan and Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell and every last Republican in Congress would have you believe what we have in America today is the undeserving poor and the deserving rich.

As the Republicans see it, America is a just society, and everyone here gets his just desserts. If you work hard, you prosper. if not, you starve, unless those Democrats start giving away money to the undeserving poor, start trying to redistribute the wealth in some unfair way.

This rationale has been used to justify cutting back on food stamps for the poor: If you feed them they will breed. Of course, anyone who looks at the farm bill is struck by the enormity of government hand outs to farmers, most of whom have never wielded a pitch fork or bailed hay, most of whom are large corporate executive types in expensive suits,  who get paid by the government for not growing or raising stock at times, or  they simply hand off their losses to the government when things go poorly.  

Then there are the subsidies for oil companies, for all sorts of companies:  The system boils down to  rich people paying to elect Congressmen and Senators who then vote billions to support the businesses and incomes of those same rich people. 
We have the best Congress money can buy.

Of course, we have all learned about the working poor, who work two or even three jobs a day and cannot make ends meet and, until Obamacare, could not possibly afford health insurance. But now giving them health care just encourages them to breed, don't you know?

The solution to providing for the needy among us is to allow individual rich people to give to charity--so it is the wise rich who deserve who should be saved--or, another solution is  allowing rich people to make enough money they can afford to hire the undeserving poor. Of course, with the advent of technology, the richest companies often employ very few people--we no longer have an economy of mega factories employing thousands of workers. That sector is shrinking rapidly into a dot.

What's a Democrat to do?  About all we can do is every time a Republican opens his mouth about the deserving rich and the undeserving poor is to call him or her on it. We have to stand up and say, "Oh, so the poor deserve their poverty because they are lazy and probably just not bright enough? Is that what you are saying?  And the rich deserve their wealth, not because they've bought themselves a rigged system,  but because they are genetically superior, and they work harder and are more deserving?  Voters, if you believe that, vote Republican."

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