I came across this report from Politico a few weeks ago, and it seemed to sum things up well. The House Agriculture Committee was debating the farm bill, and particularly Republicans’ efforts to decimate the Food Stamp program. Rep. Joe Baca (D-California) protested:

As a young father, Rep. Joe Baca had himself relied on food stamps, and during the House Agriculture Committee debate, the California Democrat emotionally invoked the Gospel of Jesus feeding hundreds from a few fish and loaves of bread. Rather than sympathy, this brought a sharp rebuke from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). “Nowhere in Scripture did God give instruction to government over us as the individual,” said the Christian conservative. “Read it, sir. He was speaking to individuals not governments.”

I really think that in an important way this sums things up. Baca says that we have to feed the poor; Southerland attacks him, saying that this has nothing to do with what Jesus said, because Food Stamps are the government, not us.

For Democrats, government is the way that we as a people get together and figure out what “our ” priorities are. For Republicans, government isn’t an us: it is an it. It is some sort of amorphous, alien blob, out there. It has nothing to do with us: it simply controls us. We might make fun of Republicans saying that “the government should keep its hands off of my Medicare,” but it reflects something important about perceptions. If it is something we experience, then it isn’t the government, because the government is “out there.”

And as the Medicare example reveals, this is very much a sort of fundamental paradigm: inconvenient facts can be dismissed as outliers, or untrue, or even just ignored. This will take a lot of very patient, frustrating work to cure: after all, people believed in the Ptolemaic universe for centuries. And I’m not even sure that it is “curable” because it reflects a moral view, not a scientific one.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.