How Come I Never Got the Benefit of the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?

Sorry for the whiny headline. It’s just that I’m going from wondering how one gets a paying job as a glorified caption writer (although Benny Johnson was sacked; good luck finding another gig that sweet, dude) (update: on second thought, he’s an old Breitbart alum. Wingnut welfare will provide.)  to wondering how come there’s always plenty of money to pay “experts” who don’t know what they’re talking about? Especially conservative “experts”? Well, OK, I know what the answer is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wallow in the injustice of it for a while.

The buzz from the Right this week was the rebirth of “compassionate conservatism.” The original was never more than an empty slogan, of course, but like good little courtiers the pundit class mostly pretends that’s not true and take it seriously.

Paul Ryan is being praised even in some center-leftie corners for his new anti-poverty ideas. Basically, unlike some of his previous plans, he does not wish to help Americans who are falling behind by taking away their shoes and breaking their feet. Instead, he proposes to treat them all like lazy children so they’ll shape up.

This is most obvious when you look at the portion of Ryan’s draft that has attracted the most scorn, the idea that poor people, if they want to use government programs, should sign a “contract” that would outline various steps and benchmarks they’d be responsible for — or else suffer the consequences of undefined “sanctions.” What kind of steps and benchmarks these are, Ryan doesn’t say, which is perhaps a gesture toward his beloved subsidiarity (the Catholic belief that authority should be devolved as much as possible), albeit one that is particularly hollow within the context of a policy that quite literally would have government agents micromanaging poor people’s lives. The point is, however, that Ryan assumes poverty in America cannot be adequately addressed by doing seemingly obvious things like giving people money or creating well-paying jobs that tackle vital public needs, but that it instead requires the poor to learn from a government-provided surrogate parent how to wrest themselves free from that dreaded “tailspin of culture” Ryan’s previously warned us about.

However, this doesn’t mean the poor will get to keep their shoes.

Every year or so Paul Ryan comes up with a glossy new plan to deal with poverty or spending on social programs. The plans never go anywhere, but they’re not really intended to: They’re designed to make the Republican Party (and Mr. Ryan himself) appear more thoughtful than it actually is on these subjects.

The one he released today is somewhat better than previous efforts, in that it doesn’t propose massive cuts in overall spending (unlike his House budgets), and would even increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the government’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Democrats have also embraced a larger credit, although unlike Mr. Ryan, they would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich rather than slashing federal nutrition programs that Mr. Ryan thinks are a waste of money.

But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others.

So, depending on where you live, it’s your state that will confiscate the shoes and break the feet. Gotcha.

Shorter Paul Krugman: Paul Ryan is still full of crap. Do read the whole column, though.

Elsewhere, via mistermix, the very exasperated Matt Bruenig takes apart the allegedly serious conservative intellectual Reihan Salam for misstating basic facts about how anti-poverty programs work. Again, do read the whole thing.

8 thoughts on “How Come I Never Got the Benefit of the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?

  1. Thank God for Paul Krugman to clearly explain why nobody should take Ryan seriously. The fact that some in the center-left give this guy a smidgen of respectability underscores the fundamental mystery of how incompetent people can get a platform and get paid to push out twaddle.

  2. The Koch $$$ has bought enough state legislatures already to assure block grants would be diverted to deserving wingers. Anybody who cannot see that is not looking.

  3. An example to illustrate a point: After BP turned the Gulf of Mexico into an oil-sodden sewer, the CEO of BP was invited to the White House. I don’t know what was said but I suspect Obama let the top dog at BP know that since BP had lied about the severity of the spill – since BP had lied about their ability to control the leak and since it looked like promises about paying for damages were just as fraudulent the administration was going to define the terms of compensation for damages. We do know that after the meeting BP agreed t set up a huge trust to pay up without litigation.

    This is why there’s a crusade to castrate the federal government, transfer entire agencies and programs to the states, eliminate other agencies entirely without even a token attempt to transfer vital functions (like environmental protection) to the states. The rich and powerful, whether it’s the energy sector, the insurance companies, bankers, Wall Street – they all know they could gut the consumer like a fish except that there is a federal government that could call them to account, make them pay fines and even send billionaires to prison.

    I can respectfully disagree with many of the tenets of conservatism, but any version or conservatism I can respect is working to make government work better, not eliminate all the rules and the umpires who might keep the game fair. On this point, millions of potentially sane conservatives (who I could disagree with) have become agents of anarchy. This is not an abstract point on which we can respectfully disagree.

    Thomas Jefferson had a quaint vision of an agrarian, not industrial, society where states would administer rules which governed an economy of mom & pop operations. If we decentralize business and break up any company that does over 100 million per year in gross income, prohibit coordination between similar companies in lobbying and representation, we can return to Jefferson’s ideals. As long as we have corporations doing business in America with more economic power than many nations do, there better be a strong central government that is not co-opted by those corporations.

  4. @Doug – that’s the point that falls on conservative deaf ears. Until they personally experience some severe, adverse action by a corporation, they think: Business Good – Gubmint Bad. They’re like stupid children who can not or will not see beyond the ends of their own noses. They’re so brainwashed by cries of “FreeDumb” that they cannot hear the argument you’re trying to make. They’re the perfect stooges, making all kinds of excuses and rationalizations (“we would have to live in caves”) for their precious companies.

    I personally think we’ve passed the point where the federal government will send billionaires to prison. Ain’t going to happen. There’s one set of rules for the oligarchs, and another set of rules for the rest of us.

    I read a short story about some future dystopia, where the government is weakened even beyond the point that ours is. The protagonists were walking along a stream where an industrial pipe was discharging waste into the water. One protagonist noted that the discharge was properly labeled “Thorium” – a horrific poison. The point being, that a government that actually was accountable to its citizens would prohibit and fine such discharges, instead of meekly requiring a company to properly label them.

  5. Moonbat – there is some agreement among reformists, TP and progressive that there is too much influence .. too much money corrupting politics. The term-limit movement thinks they can make it difficult for lobbyists and banksters if they keep changing the players. I think that’s the wrong approach – it leaves money in politics and forces cheap politicians to make a quick killing while it bans the gifted statesman before he can make a difference.

    There is a basis for broad-based reform if we agree to do that one thing – erect a wall of separation between money and government. Along with that move, fund public elections, which empowers the center and disempowers the poles. Just those two changes and you have a totally new ball game. Call it democracy.

  6. quite literally would have government agents micromanaging poor people’s lives.

    This is the party that carps about the “nanny state” when the government dares to do stuff like making sure employers pay people for their working hours.

  7. Paul Ryan is a lying sack of shite, and needs to be treated as such!
    He knows nothing about the working pool.

    Hey, Paulie, our privileged pal, how about you and your family live on what folks with your size of a family live on for a month on Welfare and SNAP?!?!?!?

    You @$$clowns wouldn’t last a week, MFer!

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