The man of the moment is Marco Rubio – the Republican junior senator from Florida, the son of Cuban exiles and seemingly the only Hispanic his party will tolerate. He knows his place. He keeps his mouth shut about immigration and border fences and the perils of the end of White Civilization as we know it. Don’t ask him about Jan Brewer and Arizona. He has no views on such things. And he’s full-bore anti-government Tea Party in his expressed views, once joking that if he won the Florida senate seat he’d call for the Senate to adjourn for a few years – just shut up shop – as the government doing nothing at all, unable to do anything at all, would be the best thing that ever happened to this country. He changed his mind when he got there. It was just a joke.
But that is how he thinks. And for Republicans, with their white-hot anger at brown people who speak a funny language flooding our country, there’s an opportunity here. Maybe they can actually win a few Hispanic votes, if they run Rubio in the vice-president slot on the ticket. Sure, he says nothing when his party gets all dreamy-eyed at the prospect of new laws, where anyone who looks even vaguely Hispanic, can be stopped and must produce his or her papers, papers proving they’re Real Americans. His silence on that matter might not sit well with La Raza or whatever. But he’s sort of one of them – he even speaks Spanish. But he’s also not one of them – he left the Catholic Church for an evangelical Protestant outfit years ago. So no one has to deal with odd shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe or any of that stuff.
All in all there may be just enough here for the Republicans to say to Hispanic voters look, look – he’s one of you! And at the same time they can wink slyly to the angry white evangelical folks in their party. This is cool, and in fact someone recently tweeted about it – “Is it time to rename GOP primaries ‘the contest to become Marco Rubio’s running mate’?”
Thomas Lane covers Rubio’s much-anticipated speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library – Lane calls him the GOP heartthrob. And Rubio gave them just what they wanted:
The address was packed with the red meat Tea Party audiences crave, and at its heart was the reddest meat of all: a “things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be” take-down of entitlement programs.
Lane says Rubio spoke more in sorrow than in anger, saying that the creation of a welfare state “was well-intentioned, it was doomed to fail from the start.” And the key passage is this:
These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities.
Yep, the institutions in society assumed the role of taking care of one another. But Lane offers this:
Of course, one might argue that the reason welfare programs were created – with great popular demand – was precisely because in all too many cases “communities,” “families,” and “churches” weren’t doing an adequate job.
Yep, people turned to another institution, one with greater resources – the government they had created and in which they participated. Rubio argues a difference in structure and intent, when all you have is a difference in scale. But as Lane notes in his comments, there were “paeans of praise” flooding in from the right, like this – and then the ultimate dramatic moment – Rubio catching the ninety-year-old Nancy Reagan as she stumbled on the way into the auditorium. Was that planned out, and rehearsed? Who knows? But he saved her from falling, and a possible broken hip – not the government. Frank Capra couldn’t have staged it better.
And one of the guys who just ate this up was David French, writing for National Review Online. But he took this to an entirely new level. Yes, no one needs government, and the government should do nothing for those in need, because after all, there’s nothing wrong with the poor except their obvious and intractable depravity:
It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely – very rarely – be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.
And Matthew Yglesias – the son of Rafael Yglesias, the screenwriter and novelist and the grandson of the novelist José Yglesias, of Cuban and Spanish descent – has this to say:
It’s worth conceding off the front end that this is, in a sense, true. A two-earner family (“gets married, and stays married”) both of whose adults “work hard” for 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year at minimum wage jobs will earn $29,000 a year. That would put you above the poverty line even with two or three kids. That said…
What if dad runs off, leaving mom with the three kids and having trouble working full-time consistent with her child-raising responsibilities? We turn around and say that we need to withdraw your public assistance in to make an example out of you for others? What if dad is abusive? What if a pile of misguided Wall Street shenanigans lands the country with a 9 percent unemployment rate and you can’t find work? What if you didn’t finish school seven years ago and now you’re 24? What if you got hooked on heroin?
Now I suppose you could argue that the availability of drug treatment programs, battered women’s shelters, and food kitchens creates “moral hazard” and encourages people to become heroin addicts and/or bed down with abusive partners. But I don’t think that this is a very plausible story.
You see, there is the real world:
People don’t become homeless drug addicts because the downside to being a homeless drug addict isn’t severe enough in the contemporary United States. And affluent parents don’t treat their children in this kind of punitive way. If a prosperous teenager develops an addiction problem, he’ll be given help. Any halfway responsible parent with the means to do so would bail out a daughter whose live-in boyfriend is abusing her. Poor people have, typically, made some mistakes in life and it’s often the case that had they lived lives free of error, they wouldn’t be poor. But it’s not like middle class people are living mistake-free lives. The difference is that middle class people have lives that give them a fair margin for error, whereas people who start out in bad circumstances can be crippled by a bit of misfortune, impulsiveness, or bad decision-making.
And one of Yglesias’ readers offers this – “We should definitely cut disaster relief funding. Everyone knows it encourages flood victims to have more floods.” Yep, moral hazard is like that.
But French says this:
The free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any government program, and yes, our “social problems create our poverty.” But there’s a tension inherent in these two points. It’s not precisely true that the free-enterprise system itself has lifted people out of poverty; it’s more true that the free-enterprise system has created opportunities that allow hard-working (or even moderately hard-working) individuals to succeed. But if you destroy the people’s industry and virtue, then all the economic liberty in the world won’t save them.
That’s a tad complicated, but what it comes down to is the idea that the government helping people out destroys the people’s industry and virtue, when, presumably, a community organization or a church or synagogue or whatever helping people out does not. That is his contention, with this additional lament:
Earlier this week, Walter Russell Mead highlighted disturbing research showing that the poor – far more than the rich – are disconnected from church and religion. While church attendance is dropping among all social classes, it’s falling off a cliff for the poorest and least-educated Americans. In other words, the deeper a person slides into poverty, the more they’re disconnected from the very values that can save them and their families.
The bottom line is that we need more free enterprise, and we need more virtue. Sadly, the Great Society and the sexual revolution have deprived us of both.
Yes, poor folks have too much sex. The depraved are like that. But that aside, the Walter Russell Mead item is here if you’re interested. Poor folks do not need any help, as that would ruin them. They need to get their sorry asses to church and get a virtue-fill-up. They really are depraved, you know.
And that is what the GOP heartthrob, Marco Rubio, actually was arguing. He just didn’t tell everyone to look at all those depraved people out there who want our stuff – they have to be stopped! You don’t say that sort of thing. But people did understand what he meant. It’s the virtuous, who made it all on their own, with no help from anyone, who never even drove on a public “government” road, versus the Godless depraved, who want our stuff, damn it. But we are kind folks. We have a duty to save the depraved, by making sure they get no help from the government. How else will they become virtuous?
Yep, it was pretty much miserly greed cloaked in sanctimonious nonsense – but it has always been so. It has just become more explicit this time around.
But as a thought experiment, imagine a small group of people who simply hates government, but do want to help each other out if things go wrong. They’re nice people. They like each other. They’re not monsters or anything. So they set up a group rainy-day fund for that, or maybe for something everyone agrees would help out, like a new well or a sewer system or something. And everyone chips in, and those who can chip in more agree to do so, and those who cannot, well, they chip in a bit less – everyone agrees on that. And they write that down so everyone is clear about that. But someone has to administer the funds in this rainy-day and general improvement pot. So they vote on who should do that, and have periodic elections so that one person doesn’t have to do all the administrative work year after year, and one person isn’t tempted to do something stupid. And they write that down too, so who gets to run for the job and how they run for the job is quite clear. And then they set up more than a set of rules on who chips in what and when, some mechanisms – administrative rules and policies and procedures – so nothing can go terribly wrong and the right things get done. And they write that down too. And then they find they have to have some sort of independent group that decides on who is breaking those rules or not – someone independent has to judge such things. And then…
And then this small group of people who simply hates government seems to have one. It happens. Government, from your condo’s home-owner’s association on up, is how people manage to get along with each other and get useful things done. Scale is the only issue here. But don’t tell Marco Rubio.
But things get complicated, and Steve Benen has a tale to tell:
President Obama has been increasingly vocal in recent months about his support for an extension of the payroll tax break approved late last year, hoping that it would help boost economic demand. Congressional Republicans have also been increasingly vocal about their opposition – in effect, the GOP is pushing for a middle-class tax increase to kick in early next year.
So he found himself arguing here that the Republicans are probably bluffing — they want the same payroll tax cut as Obama, but will only approve that if they can trade it for something else. But he then he was told that he was dead wrong – the Republicans are “genuinely hostile to any tax breaks that don’t benefit the wealthy almost exclusively.” And now he thinks those who called him out may be right, and Harold Meyerson has a column that adds important perspective:
America’s presumably anti-tax party wants to raise your taxes. Come January, the Republicans plan to raise the taxes of anyone who earns $50,000 a year by $1,000, and anyone who makes $100,000 by $2,000.
Their tax hike doesn’t apply to income from investments. It doesn’t apply to any wage income in excess of $106,800 a year. It’s the payroll tax that they want to raise – to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent of your paycheck, a level established for one year in December’s budget deal at Democrats’ insistence. Unlike the capital gains tax, or the low tax rates for the rich included in the Bush tax cuts, or the carried interest tax for hedge fund operators (which is just 15 percent), the payroll tax chiefly hits the middle class and the working poor.
And when taxes come chiefly from the middle class and the poor, all those anti-tax right-wingers have no problem raising them.
Benen says this is pretty striking:
The same Republicans, who’ve fought tooth and nail for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, without even trying to pay for them, are balking at keeping a middle-class break in place. Indeed, the same Republicans who themselves advocated for the payroll tax break are now saying deficit reduction is more important than middle-class workers having a little more money in their paychecks.
And there is James Fallows:
I had thought that Republican absolutism about taxes, while harmful to the country and out of sync with even the party’s own Reaganesque past, at least had the zealot’s virtue of consistency. Now we see that it can be set aside when it applies to poorer people – and when setting it aside would put maximum drag on the economy as a whole.
What was that Marco Rubio was saying about the poor? And Benen mentions House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s op-ed accusing the Obama administration of having a pro-tax agenda – which he finds well beyond ironic:
Given all of this, Democrats are starting to look at this issue as a valuable political opportunity. In fact, Sam Stein reported yesterday that the Democratic National Committee intends to make the payroll tax cut a key issue in the coming months, intended to put Republicans on the defensive and highlight the GOP’s antipathy towards the middle class.
If for no other reason, the political dynamic seems likely to push Republicans to cave on this, even if they oppose the policy. After all, do they really want to let Obama become the champion of middle-class tax cuts, while the GOP gets branded as the party that raised taxes on working people during a weak economy?
But they are not really raising taxes on working people during a weak economy – they are raising taxes on the obviously intractably depraved, and sparing the virtuous, who do still go to church, as everyone knows. This is an interesting strategy. No more low taxes for you, as you’re depraved (and oversexed) – and it’s for your own good. Maybe one day, when you’re rich like us – which you probably never will be, because you’re so depraved – we’ll cut you some slack.
Is that a winning strategy? Well, so far so good – and Rubio and his friends think so. And they may be onto something, as it’s hard to overestimate the depths of Americans’ self-loathing, that they’re not rich and famous and all the rest. Or maybe it just seems that way from out here in Hollywood, where that is the basis for all the money we make in this town. So, tell most voters that they’re basically scum, and always will be, and win big.
We’ll see how that works. It may work.