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“Why do you care about poor people? I don’t get it.”

She seriously didn’t. An upper-class dentist’s daughter who got a shiny new Toyota Celica for her 16th birthday, she just couldn’t, for the life of her, understand why a fellow affluent suburbanite like myself could possibly be concerned about folks on the other side of the proverbial tracks.

That doesn’t mean she was ignorant about the causes and effects of poverty. She wasn’t a shining star in the brains department, but she wasn’t a dim bulb, either. Let’s call her standard-issue fluorescent.

She knew that cutting taxes for the rich meant less money available for Medicare, unemployment assistance, public education, social security, and every other social program designed to help the downtrodden and vulnerable. She knew that conservative economics in general benefited the wealthy at the expense of the unwashed. When she cast her primary ballot for Mitt Romney, she was fully aware that she was voting for a dyed-in-the-blood “captain of industry” whose claim to fame was being born rich and doing whatever it took as a CEO to get even richer, while his underlings on the corporate ladder and in society at large bore the effects of his self-interested boardroom shenanigans.

No, she knew perfectly well what the poor were, and are, up against. And she was perfectly fine with it. It’s not that she disliked poor people, or held any personal animus toward them whatsoever. She honestly, at her very core, just didn’t care if they suffered. She told me so, with a straight, sincere-as-hell face.

To committed liberals, this mentality sounds downright sociopathic. To support conservative economics out of a genuine (if misguided) belief that “trickle-down” policies will end up helping the poor is one thing. To know that such policies actually hurt the poor, but embrace them anyway, is quite another. To embrace them because they hurt the poor, well, that’s as coldhearted and twisted as it gets.

But this attitude is not limited to the minds of spoiled divas and d-bags. It is an integral part of conservative philosophy. At its core, conservatism is not about “the free market,” or “privatization,” or “small government.” Conservatism is about the preservation and restoration of power, keeping it in the hands of those who have it and fear losing it, or once had it and want it back.

Conservatism is based on a firm belief in the rightness of existing (or once-existent) hierarchy—that those on top really are inherently “better” than those in the middle and on the bottom. Those with more money, more influence, and more control than others, have it because they truly deserve it. You are rich because you are uniquely talented and worthy of riches. Likewise, you are poor because you are uniquely flawed and unworthy of anything. You are lazy, unintelligent, and/or you simply screwed up somewhere along the line. Either way, you deserve your fate, just like the rich man. So bow down.

Of course actual conservatives, especially politicians who need lots of votes, will rarely admit to holding this kind of worldview. Instead, they preach fealty to the “free market,” “privatization,” and “small government,” saying that those ideas will lead to prosperity across the board. But when the cameras stop rolling and the microphone turns off, they go back to pushing huge government subsidies for corporations with questionable practices.

No, they’re not anti-government. They’re pro-hierarchy. They really have no problem with Big Government, so long as it's used to further the interests of those on top instead of the bottom. So they betray their false “principles” again and again, working with (and expanding) the government they supposedly despise to provide more money and power to the companies and individuals at the top of the country’s social and economic ladder. Why? Because they deserve it. And why do they deserve it? Because they’re at the top, so they’re obviously the best. They’ve won the game of Life, so they get all the trophies. To the riches go the spoils.

The poor? Why on Earth should the poor get anything? They lost the game. This isn’t youth league soccer, this is Life. Losers don’t deserve trophies.

“I don’t care about poor people,” she said. And she meant it. Live, die, suffer, cry, so what? Whatever. They’re poor. They’re losers. Now where’s the Celica parked?

***If you're interested in reading about the historical and moral foundations of American conservatism, check out White Protestant Nation by Allan Lichtman and The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin.

3:12 PM PT: Whoa, rec list! Thanks for the support, it's my first time on this thing. Be sure to check out the books mentioned at the end here; they're very worthwhile reads.

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