Sunday, August 28, 2011

Welfare Queens, Updated

Ronald Reagan was the best, in 1980 extolling the virtues of states rights just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney had been murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen doing the work of the Southern white aristocracy. As President, he brought to the fore the myth of the "welfare queen," a powerful symbol later debunked. And he didn't stop there.

Blatant appeals to white fears have not been so politically correct since the day after Barack Obama's election. On that occasion, Frank Rich could write "while there are still bigots in America, they are in unambiguous retreat" now that we have "another America- hardly a perfect or prejudice-free America, but a union that can change and does, aspiring to perfection even if it can never achieve it" (now 62 years old, Rich has since lost his youthful exuberance). A year before the election, Paul Krugman had observed "we have become a more diverse and less racist country over time." He believed "anti-immigrant rhetoric (could not) replace old-fashioned racial politics" because" it mobilizes the same shrinking pool of whites — and alienates the growing number of Latino voters."

We have, in fact, made progress of a sort. Now we don't have to demonize immigrants, blacks, welfare recipients, or any other class of citizens. It's now a larger, more diverse group of Americans vilified by the Republican Party.

Chris Hayes, substituting for Lawrence O'Donnell Friday evening, sets it up:

HAYES: In the Spotlight tonight, kicking the unemployed when they are down. In Ohio, a Republican state senator is introducing a bill that would require people seeking unemployment benefits and welfare to first take a drug test, and, of course, also pay for the test. Legislation is being driven by the apparently unkillable prejudice that the poor are shiftless, drug addled lay abouts, scheming to get their hands on your precious, precious, gooey tax dollars.

Here`s Ohio State Senator Tim Schaeffer (ph) explaining his thought process.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would we as taxpayers know that this isn`t kind of the boogie man out there? It`s an idea that it`s a problem. But we don`t have any concrete data to tell us that it really is a problem. How do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we will have data once we implement the system, and once we implement the testing. You know, if 100 percent of the people who apply for public assistance come clean, come out clean, and don`t have any drugs in the system, then fine, great. But my suspicion is we will find some.


HAYES: Yeah, that`s my suspicion, too, if you -- I don`t know -- drug tested the state senators of the state of Ohio. If this sounds startlingly familiar, it should, because just last night, we looked at the case of a Florida Governor Rick Scott, who pushed through a similar policy that required drug tests for welfare applicants. And the results?


HAYES: So was the rate of Floridians applying for welfare who also tested positive drug use at the national level of 8.7 percent? No. Was it eight percent? Was it 7.5? Was it seven percent? Was it 6.5 percent or six percent or 5.5 or five percent, like you might be thinking?

Was it 4.5 percent or four percent or even 3.5 percent? Was it three percent? Wrong again.

The rate of Floridians applying for welfare who tested positive for drug use is just -- drum roll -- two percent. Two percent, a full 6.7 percent lower than the probably actually too low government figure for the national average.


HAYES: The Florida and Ohio drug testing laws come at a time when Republicans are launching a new attack on the working poor. In his presidential announcement speech, Texas Governor Rick Perry expressed outrage at 46.4 percent of households paid no federal income tax in 2011.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don`t even pay any income tax.


HAYES: He is not -- just in case it wasn`t clear in that clip, he`s not outraged at the injustice that nearly half of American households work, but are paid so little that their take home pay barely covers basic necessities. He is outraged because they are not paying more taxes.

Fifteen years ago this week, President Bill Clinton signed a bill ending Welfare as we know it. Democrats hope that stroke of triangulation would end the demonization of welfare queens and take the issue off the table.

No, it didn't and Hayes concludes

What we`re seeing instead is that the category of welfare queen has simply expanded to now include the working poor, and those unlucky enough to lose their jobs during the Great Recession.

Consider Orrin Hatch, who believes "the place where you've got to get revenues has to come from the middle class" and complains "Now we don’t want the really poor people who are in poverty to pay income taxes. But 51 percent of all households?" And Rick Perry, who is "dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don't even pay any income tax." And Michele Bachmann (a former IRS attorney) pretending there is no tax but the income tax: "A system in which 47% of Americans don't pay any tax is ruinous for a democracy because there is no tie to the government beneifts that people demand. I think everyone should have to pay something."

No longer politically correct to dump on single out any one group- blacks, the poor, or illegal immigranst- it has become acceptable to discredit most Americans, including the working and middle classes. "We've come a long way," Frank Rich wrote on November 9, 2008. He was convinced Barack Obama knew "we are the ones we've been waiting for" because "millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country." Change We Can Believe In, indeed.

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