Before lunch I essayed some thoughts about fault lines among progressives about anti-poverty strategy. While I’ve often expressed deep skepticism about the seriousness and depth of conservative discussions on poverty-fighting, there is a significant psychological cleavage worth exploring. Paul Krugman sort of gets at it in a post today:
The trouble is that the American right is still living in the 1970s, or actually a Reaganite fantasy of the 1970s; its notion of an anti-poverty agenda is still all about getting those layabouts to go to work and stop living off welfare. The reality that lower-end jobs, even if you can get one, don’t pay enough to lift you out of poverty just hasn’t sunk in. And the idea of helping the poor by actually helping them remains anathema.
That’s all true, but while some conservatives appear to sincerely believe the first step out of poverty is to remove “government disincentives” to private-sector employment (public sector jobs, being “uproductive,” naturally don’t count), others consider poverty to be the just desserts of those who willfully entered the “trap” of dependence on government assistance to begin with. It’s sort of the difference between an attitude of “tough love” and one of (I call dibs for originating this phrase!) “tough hate.” In terms of immediate policies, there’s not much difference, since both lovers and haters of the poor insist on the “tough” part of removing government supports for the poor as rapidly as the political market allows. And I don’t pretend to be able to peer into the souls of conservatives to figure out whether they are actually lovers or haters. But I will say the latter are those pols who go out of their way to generate and profit from active resentment of the poor as perpetrators of injustice rather than its victims. And a pretty wide swath of conservative politicians have drunk from that poisoned well.