About Welfare and Liberal Confusion

So, I was responding to Violet’s post at ReclusiveLeftist and my extra long comment got thrown in moderation.  I’m sure it’s nothing personal.  Nevertheless, this needs to be said so here is my response to a snooty comment from Tinfoil Hattie who objected to the fact that on the face of it, I agree with Mitt Romney that women with children as young as 2 should be encouraged to return to the workplace and put their children in subsidized childcare.  Said Tinfoil Hattie:

tinfoil hattie says:

With which of Mitt’s sentiments do you agree, riverdaughter? The one where motherhood is so sacred and important, and mothers should be at home raising children (the LDS doctrine, by the way)? Or the one where mothers should be punished for having children, and must be humiliated and reminded that they are lesser human beings and don’t deserve a “choice” because they are poor?

Here is my response with some additions and clarifications:

Well, tinfoil hattie, let me just say that the Republicans smell a weakness here in the area of welfare that liberals seem to be confused about. Yes, that’s right, I said it. Liberals, and I count myself as one, can’t seem to figure out what they really want in welfare. I would much prefer it if we had a system like Sweden’s or Norway’s where everyone has access to good healthcare and childcare and stipends and such. But we don’t.

But here’s the thing that I think the left is confused about: We seem to actually *want* for poor parents to collect welfare checks. That welfare check will keep them in poverty for a long, long time. When the children of those parents finally go to school, those parents will have been out of work, subsisting, barely, for 5 or more years. How is this a good thing under any circumstances? Even if you are a wonderful parent, welfare is no way to live. You end up in substandard housing, possibly in a high crime area, and all around you are people who have too much on their minds to even think about what lies beyond the confines of their public housing. It warps the perspective. You don’t strive for anything because you don’t know there’s anything worth striving for. If you grow up in an environment surrounded by lots of teenage mothers who didn’t finish their educations, that starts to look normal. Then the next generation gets trapped in it.

I can’t understand how liberals could possibly think that this is a good way to grow up. It’s horrible. So, yeah, anything the government can do to get people out of a generational rut of poverty and into a job is worth trying. Even if that means putting your kid in a government subsidized childcare center and going back to work when they’re two.

Back in the 90′s, when the Clinton administration tried to provide support for welfare recipients to help them transition to work, the Republicans were hard assed bastards and fought him on every single initiative. But think about what Clinton would have accomplished if his reform had gone through. Anyone who lost their job would have had access to training, housing vouchers, healthcare, childcare. It would have been a true safety net like we see in more progressive countries. No wonder the Republicans wanted to kill it. That would have been truly revolutionary. It would have meant that there would have been a path out of welfare and on the other end, it would have meant that no one who found themselves suddenly unemployed would be in danger of losing everything. Well, Republicans couldn’t have that. It would have been another Democratic triumph. So they killed it. And now, we’re all mad a the Clintons for wanting to change the way welfare recipients saw their lives as one endless, bleak month after month?

Don’t get me wrong, Republicans see this confusion on the left as a political opportunity and they’re going to jump on it. You don’t have to believe in welfare queens to want something better for poor people. It is compassionate to want to help single women transition to work. Yes, it sucks that some people have it better than others through no effort. But I don’t think it is a very good argument for why we should oppose work and training programs for people who need them.  There is an old Sufi proverb that says, “In the desert, there is no sign that says, “Thou shall not eat stones.””  I think this means, “I never promised you a rose garden and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”  If that means you weren’t born with a silver cadillac in your mouth then maybe you have to choose the best option to get back on your feet and that might mean putting your kid in daycare when they’re two and going to work.  What is at issue here is how much of a social safety net should we provide and why we can’t extend it to everyone.  What we need to do is persuade the public that helping others is a good thing and will pay off with a more stable, prosperous country.

So, I would be very, very careful about this issue. The Republicans will wipe the floor with us.  There are two reasons for this: 1.) most people are stretched to the breaking point economically.  If they can’t benefit from something personally, they don’t want anyone else to have it either.  This falls neatly into the Republican strategy of forcing Americans to look down at the next layer of the socioeconomic spectrum.  I’m not saying this is right or moral.  Only that it is human nature.  And the Republicans are very good at letting people’s ids get the best of them.  In this case, a powerless middle and working class person has the power to deny something to a person below them and they get to feel good about being selfish.  2.) The attitude that Anne Romney has it all and therefore we must question her sincerity regarding poorer women feeds right into the Republican “politics of envy” meme.  They will point to the clueless mutterings by liberals about Anne Romney’s privilege and it will look like they want to strip Romney of her money.  And the Republicans will jump all over that.  They’ll say that liberals have a problem with rich people and want to take their money away.  Well, it’s not true that we have a problem with rich people but we do have a problem when they don’t pay their fair share of taxes because that makes it harder on everyone else.  I also have a problem when the wealthy and well connected force their Ebeneezer Scrooge employment standards on the rest of us and strip us of the fruits of our productivity.

I don’t have a problem with Anne Romney’s choices.  I do have a problem with the country turning on working mothers at every possibly convenient moment, but that is not the problem with welfare.  The problem is that we are losing our grip on how to respond to political attacks like these and yes, this is a political attack.  We have failed in our ability to shift attention away from the nitty gritty of welfare and to the issue of why so damn many people are out of work and need welfare in the first place.  The way to address this is to ask why all hard working people don’t have access to government subsidized childcare and medicare for all like civilized countries. Why are we subsidizing bankers and not all women who need to work for a living? Why are we subsidizing insurance companies on top of the outrageous taxes we already pay? Shift the attention upwards to the institutions and wealth that are hiding behind a veil of secrecy.  Who is forcing us to choose and why are hard working people paying so damn much in taxes for goods and services that are rapidly privatizing and costing us more and more money?

Better yet, ask yourself why it is we gave so much money to Wall Street in 2009 only to have the banks turn around and use that taxpayer largesse to buy politicians of both parties to do their will at our expense.  Think about that.  We are subsidizing their campaign contributions that they will use against us. And why is it the banks qualify for welfare but a hard working American can’t even get a decent insurance policy without paying through the nose for it?  Why can’t women get government subsidized daycare no matter what their income is?

Why is our safety net so shitty while the banks’ is so good?  Turn the argument around.

Liberals, we need to get a grip and really think about what we are saying.  Do we really want to be the ones who say that it is ok for a poor person to subsist indefinitely on a government check and that this is the best way we can help poor people?  Because I’m not sure that’s the message we want to send.  We want to think about a policy that conforms to OUR worldview before the Republicans substitute policies that conform to their worldview.  Think it through.  The answers we are coming back with are not working for us.

Finally, never underestimate the Republicans.  They are masters at this crap and they play to win.

BTW, this man has a coherent worldview.

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2 Responses

  1. Workfare should have been part of Lyndon Johnston’s Great Society program. You know, back when we had a manufacturing based economy and entry level jobs were plentiful.

    • Governor John Connally said the same thing, but he was hiding his racist attitudes behind his feigned concern about how to pay for welfare. LBJ had several programs that approached the problem of the unemployed and the job skills they would need to find meaningful work. Remember Job Corps?

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