September 19, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Charles P. Pierce:
Moral Hazard, the Irish setter owned for photo-op purposes by New York Times columnist David Brooks, decided he would be a real dog today. Master seemed down in the dumps, wandering the dark clubrooms of the Young Fogies Club, murmuring to the pictures on the wall, and idly caressing the leatherbound copies of Reflections on the Revolution in France that lie around on every table. Master Brooks didn’t even crack them open. He just stood there, staring off into the middle distance, holding the book as though it were the last bottle of Petrus in the cellar.
Moral Hazard was concerned. This wasn’t like Master, to be in the club so much, and not back in Cleveland Park, trading epigrams with the smart set in the vast spaces he has for entertaining. (Oh, that Bill Galston, with all those puns using the word “poor.” What a card that man is.) This can’t be healthy, Moral Hazard thought, all this hallway-haunting and deep sighing and whistling all those small snatches of half-remembered Peggy Noonan. So Moral Hazard went out into the kitchen and borrowed a baseball that belonged to the son of Carlos, the master chef, and he brought it back into the clubroom. He dropped it at Master’s feet. He looked up, his eyes bright. He bounced a little. He wagged his tail furiously. He nudged the ball gently in the direction of Master’s loafer. Moral Hazard was surprised. He’d forgotten how good he was at actually being a dog.
Master didn’t seem to notice, so Moral Hazard nudged the ball closer to the loafer. He crouched down on his front pause and then bounced straight up again. He gave off yips of delight, or what he could best recall as being yips of delight. (It had been a while.) Master finally noticed. He picked up the ball and held it for a long moment. Moral Hazard feigned all the enthusiasm he could muster. He thought for a moment that he might give himself a stroke. Then Master tossed the ball weakly about three feet across the carpet. Moral Hazard sagged. He walked slowly across to where the ball had come to rest and he looked down at it, and then back at Master, who had picked up the book again and was staring at the gilt-edged letters on the spine as though there were something there that was speaking to him. Moral Hazard picked up the ball and walked the three steps back and dropped it at Master’s feet, near a copy of today’s New York Times, his Master’s latest column therein. Moral Hazard waited a long moment. Master sighed and mumbled something about suburban men and their patios.
Fk this noise, thought Moral Hazard, and he brought the ball back to the kitchen and traded it back to Carlos for a sliver of salmon. He lay down in the pantry and day-dreamed a bit about being an ordinary suburban dog, who chased balls around the house with the kids, and Mom and Dad always pretended to be mad about it, but they really weren’t, because the kids were so happy. Yeah, thought Moral Hazard, that’d be cool…
In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent do. In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge, Eberstadt notes, has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.
Dazzling numbers, old sport. Shall we see what Clio, Muse of History, currently on her fourteenth Manhattan of the afternoon, has to say about them? Well, let’s see. In 1960, there was a substantial portion of Americans, the black ones, who were pretty much not part of anyone’s calculations, and there was no such thing as Medicare, or Medicaid. The upper marginal tax rate was also at 91 percent, until JFK lowered it to 65 percent, which is just slightly less than twice what the current president would like to it to be once again it. Since then, we have had over 30 years of fealty to crackpot economics that have shoveled wealth upward into the vast spaces for entertaining to be found in Cleveland Park, and reckless deregulation that have stuffed what was left of the economy for the rest of us into an endless boom-or-bust cycle. The sensible conclusion to be drawn is that the people pushing those policies have been nuts and should be ignored forthwith, instead of listening to them present you with a false choice of Oh-My-Gawd-Bankrupting-The-Country! or Grammy’s-Robbing-The Grandkids!
This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare? It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.
And how has our diligence been rewarded? Wage stagnation. Income inequality. A political system owned and operated by people who don’t have to work. No vacation time. Early death from heart failure or stroke, suffered with a health-care system that, even as reformed, is a laughing stock to the rest of the industrialized world. In return we get… David Brooks’s sympathy. That, and a buck-fifty, will get you a ride on the T.
The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.
The first two sentences are so magnificently free of self-awareness that they might float to the ceiling on their own. Conservatives in this country — most assuredly including David Brooks, and almost every Republican, including Ron Paul — love them some big government, and that’s not even to mention how much they love to have big government meddle in people’s sexytime. They love their farm subsidies and their rural electrical cooperatives. They just have been convinced by three decades of conservative charlatans that the big government they love is different from the big government loved by black bucks buying T-bone steaks and welfare queens in their Cadillacs. That has been the central pivot on which modern Republican politics has turned. It’s a little late for the scales to be falling from your eyes now.
Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that. The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
Oh, bullshit. If Romney weren’t the worst presidential candidate in history, Brooks would be telling us what a genius truth-teller he is. After all, Paul Ryan says this stuff all the time and I don’t recall Brooks’s ever saying that the zombie-eyed granny starver had fallen out of touch with Saint Ronnie’s legacy.
And, if poverty were still completely associated with black people, if the middle-class suburbanites, whom Brooks not long ago was encouraging to buy cheap Chinese-made crap as a statement of their common human freedom, were not seeing what they thought was a safe lifestyle stolen out from under them, we wouldn’t be hearing any of this. Was Brooks alive in 1980? Did he hear the campaign that Reagan ran? Has he looked recently at Reagan’s first budget? Everything that Mitt Romney said at that fundraiser was the inevitable result of a process that began under Barry Goldwater, when extremist economics and the sad detritus of American apartheid both got mainstreamed into the Republican party, that reached its apogee under Reagan, and that has been the ideological identity of the Republican party ever since. That 40 percent of Republicans believe in a government safety net is Ronald Reagan’s lasting legacy.
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.
And this, of course, makes Romney no different from any other Republican who ran for president this year. Paul Ryan has made a career out of saying it. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich say it all the time. Without it, the Republicans have no domestic policy agenda and haven’t had one for three decades. Silly Mitt. You have to imply this kind of thing, or couch it in Jesus or The Founders. Otherwise, you scare the people in Cleveland Park.
People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest…
No, I’m not going any further with that one. You know nothing. Piss off.
Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.
Of course you’d put those in that “category,” you smug, entitled quack. They’re never going to touch you. Federal disability payments encourage dependency? Unemployment insurance does? You know the only difference between Willard Romney and David Brooks? Willard’s fk-you money can say, “Fk you,” and doesn’t have to pretend that nobody heard it.