BIG GOVERNMENT FOR ME, NOT FOR THEE…. We’ve seen plenty of these anecdotes before, but I have to admit, I continue to find them endlessly entertaining. In this case, Matt Taibbi checked in with some of the folks attending a recent Tea Party rally.
“I’m anti-spending and anti-government,” crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. “The welfare state is out of control.”
“OK,” I say. “And what do you do for a living?”
“Me?” he says proudly. “Oh, I’m a property appraiser. Have been my whole life.” I frown. “Are either of you on Medicare?”
Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!
“Let me get this straight,” I say to David. “You’ve been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?”
“Well,” he says, “there’s a lot of people on welfare who don’t deserve it. Too many people are living off the government.”
“But,” I protest, “you live off the government. And have been your whole life!”
If it seems like stories like these are common, it’s because they are. There’s the anti-government candidate who loved to accept federal farm subsidies. Or the guy who is active with Tea Party politics because he wants the government to spend less and get rid of public programs, but he loves Social Security, and when he lost his job, one of his first steps was contacting his congressman about available programs that might give him access to government health care.
Then there’s the woman who’s considered a “star” right-wing activist in her efforts against government programs, but who loves the socialized medicine that comes with Medicare. And the activist who considers himself a hard-line libertarian, but his main source of income is taxpayer-financed disability checks sent to him every month by the federal government.
Even one of this year’s most breathtakingly ridiculous Senate candidates, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, gets by on government-subsidized health care and a taxpayer-financed pension.
The hypocrisy is obvious, as is the impressive cognitive dissonance. But I think Paul Waldman is right that the key here is understanding who benefits from government generosity: “Medicare? Well, that’s for people like David and Janice, and their friends, so that’s good. ‘Welfare’? Well that’s for shiftless, undeserving people — not people like them. Chances are that most Tea Partiers have no idea exactly what the stimulus is paying for, but given their preconceptions about Barack Obama, they’re pretty sure it’s benefiting people who don’t deserve it — people who are not like them…. Being the beneficiary of government benefits doesn’t seem to change some people’s view about what sort of person gets government benefits.