Sun Jun 05, 2011 at 10:00 AM PDT
Are there no poorhouses? And wait,
why the hell are we paying for poorhouses?
Politics can be a complicated business. Every yes-or-no vote may represent something more nuanced, behind the scenes; politicians may plot out long-term strategies or short-term ones; catering to one constituency may require irking another. These things are all true.
But at the end of the day, if you don’t want to be perceived as a simple, cold hearted son-of-a-bitch, then you may want to rethink a political philosophy that requires you, at every possible turn, to behave like a son-of-a-bitch.
House Republicans are pushing back against a series of public health measures, including school lunch standards and tobacco regulation, teeing up a confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House over the reach of government in daily life. [...]
On Tuesday, the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee approved a 2012 spending plan that directs the Agriculture Department to ditch the first new nutritional standards in 15 years proposed for school breakfasts and lunches. The lawmakers say meals containing more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy will cost an additional $7 billion over five years — money they say the country can ill afford in difficult economic times.
Can ill afford? Seven billion dollars over a half decade is, from the standpoint of the larger budget, not a lot of money. And seven billion dollars nationwide to feed schoolchildren fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk especially seems like not a lot of money. Farmers would be able to sell more produce, which would help a continually troubled economic segment. Kids would get healthier meals, and not be prodded daily into eating something worse — at least, not directly from their school. And if you are going to have a nutritional standard for school lunches, and God knows what slop and dreck we would be feeding our children, if the school budgeters could choose anything they wanted, it makes sense to make that standard be something that would at least not actively hinder their health. Healthier children turn into healthier adults: healthier adults have lower medical bills; lower medical bills translate into lower government costs later.
So a nationwide policy to have schoolchildren Eat A Goddamn Apple Already would seem an easy call, the sort of thing that past presidents might eagerly tape a public service message to support, and the sort of thing that perhaps in ye olden days would have passed muster with Congress in a reasonably bipartisan fashion. But these are not those bygone days, back when a Richard Nixon could give a crap about children or the environment and not be cut off from his irate party for such a stand, or back when “fitness” was not a dirty word, considered by red-faced radio hosts to be nothing but a plot by a devious and socialist First Lady to something-something-something.
When your sole political philosophy is that wealthy people should pay less taxes, it stands to reason that you expect someone else to be footing that bill. And when your political philosophy is that wealthy people and large corporations should pay far less taxes, it stands to reason that you think everybody else should be footing the bill. If our modern demand is the yet even more extreme position that taxes on the wealthy and the corporate be lower than they ever were under Clinton, or Bush the First, or Reagan, or Nixon, or in fact any other president for nearly the last century of American existence, then the only way to make such a thing sustainable is to take an equal amount of money away from the poor, or the sick, or the powerless, or the young.
This is not a new idea by any stretch. But what is perhaps new, speaking in strictly modern terms, is the extent to which the elites of the nation have gone to convince themselves that such a thing is a damn fine and American idea, and that how could we possibly afford to give schoolchildren a few more apples when our top American corporations are suffering under an effective tax burden of zero percent, and when this terrible recession has rocked Wall Street, momentarily rendering their bonuses unclear before returning the besuited classes to businesses as usual, albeit with a few more homeless people on their sidewalks than usual.
I am not saying that the Republican position of lower taxes for the wealthy is inherently a bad or loathsome one. I am not saying that one political party is immoral, and the other party better.
But what I am saying is that if, in the end, your grandiosely presented and handsomely argued economic philosophy results in you constantly taking positions that, to repeat myself, make you look like a heartless son of a bitch, and which constantly come down in favor of the wealthy over the poor, or constantly choosing the connected over the unconnected, or the powerful over the powerless, or require you to demand we treat our children worse, or provide for our elders less, then you may, by process of deduction, simply be a heartless son of a bitch, and no amount of powerpoint slides, think-tank studies or prominent churchgoin’ will render it otherwise.
This is not simply about apples at school. From the same report:
The committee also directed the USDA to scale back participation in an effort to develop voluntary guidelines for companies that market food to children. And it directed the FDA to exempt grocery and convenience stores and other businesses from regulations set to take effect next year requiring that calorie information be displayed.
Both efforts cost a trivial amount, are relatively effortless for companies to implement, and merely have the audacity to attempt to make it easier for a consumer to know more about what they might be buying and eating.
From a separate House effort to cut food and medical assistance to American children, even though money spent on the program actually saves money by reducing health problems for those children (presuming, of course, that we bother to treat them later):
House Republicans, as part of their 2012 budget, have proposed dramatic cuts to food assistance programs, including cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that would prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible women and their children from accessing the program. Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved more than $830 million in cuts to WIC and millions more in cuts to the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. [...]
CAP’s Melissa Boteach and Seth Hanlon found that the cost of the GOP cut to WIC is equivalent to the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires alone for just one week [...]
Economists have estimated that every dollar invested in WIC “saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth by reducing the instance of low-birth-weight babies and improving child immunization rates.”
From Florida, led by the archconservative wunderkind Rick Scott:
According to the “End of Session” report from the Florida House of Representatives released this week, Florida’s Healthy Start Coalitions lost $5.2 million dollars in state funding this year. Local Healthy Start coalitions provide high-quality prenatal care services for at-risk mothers and health care services for children in their communities.
The report says that this funding reduction “could result in 14,468 fewer clients served” or “252,573 fewer services provided.” [...]
As we also reported earlier, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed additional funds last week for two local Healthy Start coalitions that were hoping to start a “nurse-family partnership” program. The project would have provided specialized care for at-risk first-time mothers.
From New Jersey, under the management of the press-lauded Gov. Chris Christie:
Adults in a family of three that makes as little as $103 a week would earn too much to qualify for health care provided by Medicaid under a sharply curtailed program Gov. Chris Christie wants the federal government to approve this year, according to state officials and advocates briefed on the proposal. [...]
The state estimates that about 23,000 people in the coming fiscal year would be prevented from enrolling in Medicaid and New Jersey FamilyCare, a spinoff program for working poor who make slightly more than the Medicaid limits. [...]
“That is about a third of the poverty level,” [NJPP analyst] Castro said. “That means that an uninsured parent working full time at a minimum-wage job wouldn’t be eligible. … A parent who works half-time for minimum wage wouldn’t even qualify.”
Governor Christie, you may recall, made headlines this week for taking a government-provided helicopter to his son’s high-school baseball game, then taking a government-provided limousine from the helicopter to his nearby seat. This episode neatly won the week for its example of extreme hubris coupled with a nearly comic-book level of incomprehension as to how the little people live.
The common theme running through all of these, and dozens upon dozens more examples throughout the nation, is of course the presumption that of course America must respond to this current recession by balancing budgets directly on the backs of the poor. We cannot possibly conceive of raising taxes or even reducing the government-provided subsidies of companies making now-record amounts of profit, but we can and will raise that same amount of money by reducing food and medical aid to American children. As nebulous economic philosophy it is one thing. As actual practice it appears to primarily manifest itself as mean, spiteful, and stupid. It is not even economically sensible: we would rather steal dimes now, at the expense of having to pay dollars later? Or are we truly going to do the Randian thing of washing our hands of all of them, of all the American sick, of all the American poor, of all the American elderly, and letting them rot on our streets? (Ah, Rand, that glorious and vicious psychopath, patron saint of the Haves, prophet and queen of the greedy, that Rock upon which the swindler and the scoundrel can build their Church!)
When a Paul Ryan proposes exactly this — that instead of promising a minimal level of access to medical care for our seniors, the government simply cut private businesses a known-to-be-insufficient check and wash their hands of them all, or when Gov. Christie takes time between fundraising opportunities to harrumph at the greed of the $100-a-week working poor in his state and explain that they should get by with less, they are painted as bold thinkers, as the new idea men for their party. And perhaps they are, because the prevailing philosophy they endorse is, unquestionably, the ascendent one.
But it seems a rather simple task to investigate the actual results of that philosophy and ask: is it sound? Is it truly fiscally wise? Is it working? What sort of long-term outcomes might it have? Does it represent the sort of country that America wishes to be?
Is it in the end, in actual practice, cruel?
Every politician is quick to point out what they are for. They are often less eager to point out the inverse: who or what the are against. Conservatism is at the moment proclaiming two values ascendent and non-negotiable: that the most connected and well off of the country contribute less than they have in generations, and that government explicitly do less to make up for it. Such values may or may not in theory dictate that we leave our poor poorer, our children hungrier and our elderly sicker than before: across the nation, however, that is precisely the practice being actively pursued. And on a widespread scale. It needs no theoretical discussion of cause and effect, and relies on no economic theorem: it can be directly observed, in bill after bill after bill. Cut government in ways that do nothing to harm the rich, but directly and quite explicitly harm the poorest.
In the end, that seems something on which a value judgment can be made. Perhaps a person is a bold thinker; perhaps someone has fresh new ideas. Perhaps a new party platform has emerged organically from the population, or perhaps a new party platform coalesced from the wishes of that narrow set of people who would benefit most from it.
Or, just maybe, a person might just be a foolish, shortsighted, mean-spirited son of a bitch.