Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An (Im)modest Proposal

In 1729, Dr. Jonathan Swift published his idea for how to keep the children of the poor off the public docket in Ireland. It was quite simple and well thought out: of the stock of some estimated 120,000 burdensome children, 20,000 would be “reserved for breed,” including 4,000 males or one to every 4 females, “which is more than we allow for sheep.” The remaining 100,000 would be sold to “persons of quality and fortune” to provide them with “good table.” A further benefit to this plan would be that the hides from the infants could be used to make gloves and shoes and the like, as well as the fact that many of these children would be “papists,” thus reducing the number of Catholics causing trouble.

Here in Minnesota, in 2008, our problems are still apparently caused by the poor and the sick. Instead of using eloquent satire to illustrate the fallacy of certain arguments, our illustrious governor uses what has become known in America as “common sense” to quietly lay blame on unfortunates in this country who need social services. In modern American “common sense,” you say a lot of words that sound good and get people’s heads nodding, in order to keep them from thinking about the actual meaning of the words.

For instance:
"The state is overemphasizing social services and welfare at the expense of some other key priorities, like K-12 education, like higher education, and like transportation."

Actually means:
“The reason your roads are bad and your bridges are falling and your kids’ educations are failing is because of poor people and sick people.”

It is not the lack of a sustainable transit plan, which invests in a long-term infrastructure or the continued hamstringing of our public school system by a federal government and satellite state governments who are against public education in general; it’s not any of the other budget lines that consume funds; it’s because all the money that could be going to roads and kids is going to the poor and sick who are sponging off the rest of us hardworking citizens. So let’s divert funds from social services into the roads so that if you are on welfare and can’t afford a car, you will be spurred to get a job and buy a car.

This statement:
"[These programs have] already consumed the federal government's budget to the point they're in debt, and I don't know how they're going to get out.”

Actually means:
“Poor and sick people have gotten the federal government into debt.”

That’s what has gotten the federal government into such trouble, from surplus to deficit in 8 years: poor and sick people. It’s not a second futile run at full-scale supply side economics. Furthermore, it’s not tax cuts and breaks for corporations and the wealthy; it’s not the defense department and the two wars. Neither is it massive bureaucratic reorganization for uncertain outcomes.

Poor people and sick people are nefarious. Business leaders told the governor all about people who are trying to earn less so that their kids can have health care. And he nodded in agreement, having heard of the very same plot. It’s not that health care is such an important and costly issue to Americans that they would rather have less money in pocket than risk losing public assistance; these people are freeloaders who are scamming the system. Who asked them to have all those kids, anyway?

Employers complain about the high cost of health care insurance for their employees, and the governor tries to think of ways to help the employer because too many of those people are winding up on subsidized care. If you are a member of the working poor, and you make too much to qualify for subsidized care, but your employer does not offer care, you are pretty much a nuisance and are on your own.

Then the governor headed to Florida to stump for John McCain, because we know what is really important to him as the co-chair of the candidate’s national presidential campaign.

Is cutting social services going to alleviate poverty? That is what many conservatives like to say; that it is only the crutch of government aid keeping these people from entirely supporting themselves. If you remove that crutch, they can learn to walk on their own. Never mind that no one has their crutches taken away without a plan for rehabilitation. Never mind that in order for one to have crutches, one must have been injured in some way. And if you are injured in some way in America, you had better either have good benefits or plenty of cash on hand.

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