Last weekend The New York Times published a visually provocative piece entitled “The Geography of Government Benefits” in which demographic data about which parts of the nation receive the lion’s share of federal assistance is splashily displayed. Gently letting the cat out of the bag, the states/ regions of each state which take more from the national kitty than contribute to it are the very ones that rail against “big government” and decry the horrors of having a nanny state. Such is the self-implosive bloviation of hypocrites’ cognitive dissonance.
For example, Owsley County, Kentucky, boasts the proud bragging rights of most food stamps per capita in the entire country — but voted Republican predominantly in the 2008 election. This must tickle Newt Gingrich, who takes no small delight in slighting Obama as “the food stamp president.”
It was not ever thus. The 1970s and ’80s bore no direct correlation to anti-spending fervor and federal assistance reception. Call it a golden age of friends with benefits. This changed with Newt’s Contract on — sorry, With — America, in 1994, when he was Speaker of the House. The economist Gary Richardson at the University of California–Irvine noticed a correlated nuance: tax rates for pro-Republican voters like business- and property owners as well as incomes based largely on capital gains were lowered with Newt’s “Contract,” while public expenditures for programs that assist more traditionally Democratic-leaning voters were cut. Cute, huh? This is what’s called balancing the budget on the backs of the working class. And is this not the kissing cousin equivalent of an income redistribution scheme in reverse? But I thought conservatives detested such interference? Unless it is selectively beneficial.
Have the times truly changed, public opinion altering (albeit inconsistently with personal reality), or has the GOP better framed the whole notion of handout and hardship? Remember the acronym: Not In My Back Yard, or “NIMBY,” when you support a policy so long as it doesn’t affect you personally. The location of prisons and landfills come to mind as things must of us believe is a good thing to have, but prefer that it be located elsewhere. This is nimbyism in reverse: something shouldn’t happen anywhere unless it happens in one’s backyard. Public assistance especially. Yet the nimby mindset is not endemic to geographical spaces alone. When you protest the profligacy of federal assistance programs while reaping the benefits of said programs in spades, you are a namby-pamby nimbyist, no two ways about it. True, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” but I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that he didn’t have poor white trash in mind. Besides, entertaining conceptual antipodes is quite a different caper than believing in the sanctity of marriage as an argument against gay marriage while having filed for divorce more than once (as this fun map from Pew shows). If only by this metric alone is Speaker Gingrich extra first rate.
No matter; larger questions still loom. Are national economic afflictions drowned out by the petty and parochial distractions — the cannon-fire hue and cry of culture war fodder — such that the worse one’s economic reality becomes the more one supports the party largely culpable for a wrecked economy, all in the name of protecting embryos and protesting gay marriages? In other words, what’s wrong with Kansas is wrong with America. Or is it depressingly simpler than that even? Have Americans most adversely affected by Republican policies swallowed the propaganda pill that it is Democrats who love to raise taxes and spend profligately while Republicans, guying some time-honored grandfather, are the fiscal conservatives here to keep the boat shipshape and afloat? Is that why their policies favor those who own yachts while cutting funds to teach kids how to swim? Especially the ones who have taken Grover Norquist’s pledge not to ever raise taxes, he whose mantra is to shrink the federal government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub? Let the polar icecaps melt that the sea levels rise! Maybe the South will, too.