Since the days when Massachusetts Governor Willard Mitt Romney wanted to experiment with ways to help welfare recipients substitute training for "workfare" requirements, the federal government has been giving states waivers to carry out modifications. The Obama administration has granted waivers, and now the Director of the Office of Family Assistance has issued a Policy Memorandum offering guidelines on how the states could request waivers to substitute vocational training and educational efforts for the workfare requirement associated with so-called “welfare reform.”
Republicans quickly claimed that Obama signed an executive order that abolished work requirements and gutted welfare reform. Executive orders have the force of law, and
Republican publicists claimed that this order was unconstitutional and tyrannical. The odd thing is that the HHS suggestions parallel those made by Romney and the Republican governors in 2005 as well as legislation then proposed by Senator Charles Grassley.
This Republican effort to claim that President Barack Obama protects welfare chiselers is an old and effective tactic going back to Ronald Reagan’s invented stories of “ welfare queens” driving new Cadillacs to pick up their checks. Newt Gingrich, an expert in demagoguery, called Obama the “food stamp president.” Romney is now saying Obama encourages a “culture of dependency,” which are code words for an appeal to soft racism, the idea that African American culture is inferior. One wonders if the charges Romney’s forces make would have been as effective were Obama Caucasian. Playing to prejudice against the poor and minorities is a tried and true way of activating the Republican base and influencing some so-called independent voters.
(Thanks to several alert readers, Big Chuck has been able to offer this improvement of the August 7 diary.)
Mitt Romney accepted all the extreme distortions and now claims that Obama has "gutted welfare reform." He launched an ad claiming that Obama is dismantling welfare reform. In the past, Romney has offered so many massive distortions, that it is difficult to grasp how any reasonable person could accept his claims. At one time he said that Barack Obama deliberately followed policies he knew would damage the country. How does one know that? This is no different from the crazed Birther claims of so many others on the Right. If Romney were not running against a man who has been systematically demonized, some reasonable observers might wonder if the Republican candidate had not slipped so far into solipsism ass to become a serial liar.
FOX News says the ”executive order” was unconstitutional. More people watch Fox than the other cable networks because they prefer anger, distortions, and opinion to fairness and facts. The Wall Street Journal editorial page announced that Obama has ended welfare reform. In a widely published op-ed, the head of the American Enterprise Institute avoided some of the full package of lies but warned that disaster was on the horizon and that the the new policy greatly weakened welfare reform. In fact, there is no evidence of a new policy. The Obama administration seems to be granting waivers in the same manner as its predecessors.
None of these claims are true, and that is why the charges lack specifics of any kind. But the charges are “out there” are likely to stick because so many Americans have ugly feelings about the poor and minorities. In a timed of multiple crises and insecurity, many people feel better about themselves when they can contrast their virtuous selves with those they think are trying to game the system. Or, as Romney said about some blacks who did not warm to his message, they want to “get free stuff” from the government.
We are no longer a Puritan nation, except in one respect. We work longer and harder than most other peoples, and we are very much into the Protestant work ethic. Sociological studies show that the more we buy the Protestant ethic, the more likely we are to harbor prejudice against minorities and the poor. Similarly, the strong believers in the work ethic are more likely to oppose welfare and even the social safety net. This is one reason why so many oppose Affordable Care; they cannot handle the idea that the poor and minorities might benefit.
Of course, the Protestant Work Ethic has been blended with Social Darwinism, and a truly ugly cocktail has emerged. The latter postulates that people on the bottom of society are there because they are lazy and incompetent. Related to this belief is the revived notion that these people do not deserve the right to vote. It is astonishing that most Americans seem to accept the new vote suppression measures. If you ask a supporter why, he will say these people are too lazy to vote and that it is very simple to meet the new registration requirements. No amount of information will persuade him otherwise.
Social Darwinism has become so strong that it is impossible to have an honest discussion of so-called welfare reform. Since 1996, it has made it possible to slash the welfare rolls by half. It has also brought down the wages of many other Americans who have had to compete with people who had no choice but to work for whatever was offered them. Welfare reform is tied to block grants which do not increase annually with the rate of inflation. The result is that the sates find ways to take more and more people off the rolls. This is the same approach that is being envisioned for the rapid reduction of Medicaid costs.
Ruth Conniff recently wrote about the "Rich-Poor Alliance" in The Progressive. She noted that the ten poorest counties in Wisconsin strongly supported the retention of rightist Governor Scott Walker. The working poor and many in the middle class look down on those below them. They see themselves as virtuous, hard workers. They usually are. But they somehow think that if less were done for the poor that they would thrive.
Conniff notes that the poor and many blue collar folks greatly resent teachers and public employees. They believe that public employees and teachers are privileged because they have fairly decent incomes, health care, and pensions. It is almost conventional wisdom that teachers work little and are not committed to what they do. Even many unionized workers in the private sector joined in the resentment of unionized public workers and supported a Republican regime that will eventually move against all unions in Wisconsin.
These days, it is not unusual to hear parents or siblings of teachers insist that teachers should be stripped of their pensions. Worried and distracted people gain some comfort in lashing out at people who allegedly do not play by the rules of the Protestant work ethic, the poor, minorities, and now public employees.
Many poor and blue collar folks backed Scott Walker when he broke the public employee and teacher unions. They cheered when pensions were attacked. The same occurred in Minnesota, where the attack on pensions was ever more sweeping. In Ohio, Governor John Kasick was actually elected by denouncing the greedy and lazy teachers. Oddly, some teachers voted for him.
In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett wants to slash the pensions of retired teachers and public employees, and he has widespread support. Even some retired teachers seem willing to sacrifice income for their party. At a recent gathering of long retired teachers, an activist was prevented from warning his colleagues about Governor Corbett’s intention because some of Corbett’s backers there would be offended.
The many crises we face make people insecure. As Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian scientist, noted over 60 years ago, many people need emotional solace even more than economic security. Many worried and threatened people gain solace and a sense of self-worth by loathing and injuring the dreaded “Other” and picturing themselves as part of the victimized “real Americans.” Lorenz suggested that these people need simple conventional wisdom to get through life. They have problems facing complexity and painful realities. This is why so many ordinary people will persist in voting against their own best interests.
So long as people are fearful or terrorism, pluralism, recession, and status loss, Republicans will probably be able to rely on the "rich-poor alliance" and the resentment so many have for the poor, minorities, and, now, public workers
Conniff quoted a local Wisconsin politician who said, "We have one party that is scary, and another that is scared." To their credit, the Wisconsin Democrats tried to attack Scott Walker and his minions. Elsewhere, Democrats seem so scared that they are saying little in hopes of saving their seats. They should be calling out the Republicans and reminding the middle class and poor that they stand to loose much if Republicans win in November.