Land of the "Free Stuff," Home of the Brave

If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week.

They aren't saying that the voters are uninformed, or that they allowed themselves to be duped. Instead, Barack Obama's re-election is said to be a moral failing on the part of the American public. They got what they wanted, conservatives are saying. And what was it they wanted? Universal health coverage, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong environmental regulations, legal abortion? Nope. They wanted free stuff. Because that's just how those people are.

This was perhaps articulated most vividly by Bill O'Reilly, who on election night lamented the fact that "the white establishment is no longer the majority" and said, "It's not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama."

It didn't start on election day; this is a tune that Republicans have been playing for a couple of years now, and nearly everyone, from media figures to members of Congress to their presidential nominee himself, joined in with increasing frequency over the last few months. "You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both," said Sarah Palin back in September. "Offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives," wrote National Review's Kevin Williamson after the election. "You have two generations now who believe that the government owes them something," said conservative columnist Cal Thomas. "If you're looking for free stuff you don't have to pay for, vote for the other guy," said Mitt Romney during the campaign. And of course, his infamous 47 percent video was all about those people who think they are "entitled" to government benefits.

The truth, of course, is that every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and so much else. But that's not the "free stuff" conservatives are talking about. They're talking about the government giving you something directly as an individual, like money. But there's a problem here too: Lots and lots of Americans, including most of those whom Republicans deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. I'm not even talking about bank bailouts, or corporations like General Electric rewriting the tax code so they pay nothing. I'm talking about individual people, the kind of people Republicans like, getting direct government aid.

There is nothing–nothing–that makes, say, Medicare superior to unemployment benefits, even though as far as conservatives are concerned, only receiving the latter makes you a "taker." If you're unemployed, you paid taxes, and now the government is helping you in your time of need. There is nothing that makes the mortgage interest deduction morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. The government has decided, wisely or not, that it wants to promote home ownership, so it pays for part of millions of homeowners' mortgage interest. The government has also decided that it's bad for our society if people starve, so if your income falls below the level where it will be difficult to afford food and also pay for the other necessities of life, it give you some help in buying food.

So what is it that, in conservatives' minds, distinguishes the "makers" from the "takers," particularly when, as political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides report, "97 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats report that they have used at least one government social policy"? Think hard, and it'll come to you.

Even if Mitt Romney had not chosen Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan to be his running mate, this election would still have seen the triumph of a Randian attitude on the right, in which every policy and everyone they don't like is attacked as a despicable parasite sucking off the labors of their economic betters. We had Romney's absurdly mendacious welfare ad ("You wouldn't have to work … they just send you your welfare check"). We had Newt Gingrich proclaiming that he'd love to explain to the NAACP "why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps." We had the attack on Sandra Fluke for allegedly wanting "free contraception," or even asking for taxpayers to pay for it ("Ms. Fluke wants us to pick up her lifestyle expenses!" said Bill O'Reilly), when what she advocated was that the insurance coverage that women themselves pay for should cover contraception. We had conservatives fascinated by the idea that poor voters were being given free "Obama phones" (don't ask). To the right, if you were voting for Obama it could only be because you wanted to get something from the government you didn't deserve.

But if you want to find a real sense of entitlement, the place to look is among the country's wealthy, the people who turned over hundreds of millions of dollars to Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie in their failed attempt to drive Barack Obama from office. They may not have been able to propel one of their own to the White House, but despite all their resentment and complaining things have never been better for the country's economic Übermenschen. Not only do they hold more of the nation's wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age, the privileges of that wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. The entire world offers special concierge services to shield them from the indignities and inconveniences of everyday life. And now, they have new freedoms in the political realm as well; where they might have had to hold their tongues in the past, thanks to Citizens United they are now free to strong-arm their employees to vote in the right way, complete with threats of layoffs should the voters be so vulgar as to elect a Democratic president.

Perhaps by the time 2016 arrives, the Republican party will find a message that resonates with voters more effectively than "You people make me sick." For now, though, that's what they're sticking with.

Comments

This is really an ugly thing that the Republicans do to demonize hardworking, but poor Americans. The idea that somehow being rich makes you successful and better person, is ludicrous.

I would offer up the fact that some of the richest people have never really worked a day in their life and some of the poorest work the hardest. In fact, what really does Mitt Romney do? Has he ever created a thing, manufactured something or built anything (besides his own portfolio)? How often do you think he has ever worked a 16 hour day, doing backbreaking work, like many a maid, waitress or laborer?

Yes, our values are definitely messed up. But, not because there are a bunch of lazy people that want things. What we VALUE has become totally twisted. A woman that works two jobs and still has to get food stamps to feed her kids is a moocher and yet, we bow to bankers that don't do anything but move money. Their contribution to society is a shell game. They are the con man on the street corner betting you to find the pea under the walnut.

So, let's play a game of "what if". What if there was a terrible disaster, like those movies about the destruction of the world, where there are just small pockets of people trying to survive and begin again. Who do you think would be most valued then? Farmers, laborers, maids, people that make things, would all be far more valuable than Mitt Romney or Jamie Dimion. Even artists, entertainers or ballplayers would contribute more to our small lives by way of games or joyful distraction. Leaders, yes....but we'd have little need for politicians. My guess is it would be the poorest of the poor that would rebuild the world simply because they know about survival. Would the richest of the rich even be able to survive outside their carefully constructed bubbles? What, if anything, would Donald Trump have to contribute in that world?

Actually, Bill O'Reilly would do ok. He's been shoveling sh*t for so long, maybe he could learn to take care of the barn animals.

I'm not happy with Obama's first term, but I do give him all credit for having to deal with obstructionists. The Right has this unbeliveable ability to frame progress as really, really bad. And Socialist. omg. Whether you're a Tea Bagger, a responsible Republican, or an Obama hater, the job of elected officials is to govern. There's no record to support that you, the Righties, intend to govern. Obstruction is not governance. Do you get this? And why are Billo'ry or Hannity or Coulter so afraid to imagine a diverse country? My goodness, we were a diverse country to begin with -- why would we be not okay with diversity after 250 years so so?

Ann Coulter keeps writing book after book on how liberals are destroying Amurca, yet she fails to notice that after Powells Memo, the CONJOBservaTURDS have been successful and in charge for the last 30 years. Clinton you say?, Well, he said that, 'the era of big gov't is over' WHAT DEMOCRAT WOULD EVER SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?Clinton and Obama are both Corporate Democrats, or Rockefeller Republicans. Coulter makes me laugh as she is just so out of it while thinking she is 'in the know'.

We've got an offer for free stuff for Republicans chanting the "Free Stuff" mantra. Following the election of Barack Obama, we are offering a six-month vacation to Republicans who say that the reason President was elected was due to new non-white populations who "want stuff".

The offer can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRY8dHsMNfk

Nothing in O'Reilly that a few years of reeducation in Castro's cane fields couldn't cure.

Well, maybe.

Great article Paul. One suggestion I would have used the noun Republican instead of Conservative. I don't think the two words are always synonymous or interchangable-- at least I hope not. American Conservative Magazine for example has run articles on the Republicans doubling down with the super rich and ignoring the rest of the country and warned about the neocons getting us involved in the wars under false pretenses. I don't conservative or liberal is a pejorative term-- it's the people running the parties. In the case of the Rebpublican party the super rich have become pigs trying to get every last scrap. The GOP may go the way of the Whigs if they listen to those people not because they are too conservative.

Mitt Romney is a petty, arrogant sore loser; and so are most in the Republican Party. They are very mad that the American people finally caught on to them.

I think people just need to put this into perspective. You need to realize that the contempt that the middle class of this generation has for the poor is the same as the contempt that the rich have for the middle class. Just as the middle class sincerely does not believe that the poor are entitled to anything, that's what the rich believe about the middle class. That's just the way things are.

Excellent observation, DHFabian. The extreme right would not have gotten as far as they did if the middle class did not consider themselves "up and coming but not yet wealthy" and poor people "subhuman" (even UNTERMENCHEN). The truth is, especially with the unscrupulous wealthy waging class warfare on the rest of us for the past few decades, we of the middle class are the "not yet poor", i.e. at risk of becoming poor by bad luck (or machinations by the wealthy), just as disabled advocates refer to the rest of us as "TEMPORARILY able-bodied".

Having a background in being 'poor' my childhood was spent in the state child welfare care system and it was no picnic. I know poor people demonised as not having any work ethic, or are lazy, but my personal experience says differently, as I saw parents of my classmates working 2 or 3 low paid jobs with never a chance to climb out of their situations, but they loved their kids and did what they could to provide for them. They weren't looking for the gov't or anyone else to give them things at all. Poor, uneducated with only the physical body they had to earn their keep, what they lacked was opportunity, many worked in cotton mills, an industry that was slowly being lost to Asian workers, and their countries. Sadly, I'm in my 60s and to me the game is rigged and far too often, it's who you know that moves you up, not your abilities. Case in point, I was studying for a better skill as the good paying factory job I had I knew it was too specialised and if I lost it, I'd be back to minimum wage, so I felt a skill I could use working anywhere seemed in order. As I attended night classes at the local community college, I applied for a job in the field of my study, and of course they said I was too inexperienced, so I did eventually land a part time assistant position, that I advanced from, and after 12 years experience at a skill I could take anywhere, I happened to apply for the same job that turned me down due to my not having enough experience and can you guess...they turned me down again only this time saying I was over qualified for the position...???!!!
Poor people are good hard working people, and a few here and there who don't fit that description, are a minority in the group not the rule. Obama was not elected by folks who want 'stuff'; that is a right wing fantasy to include some while excluding others.

I work in a DoD facility, staffed with government hating military retirees and prior military. These folks are what I call neo welfare kings and queens because they feel that they are entitled to civil servant jobs (for life), free lifelong medical and every other benefit possible.

They are totally clueless about what hypocrites they are...bemoaning someone on unemployment, while they suck away on the government tit. Yeah, I'm glad they served but if my paying my entire life for social security and medicare no longer counts for anything, then the shoe should fit for them as well.

I am sick of these government haters complaining about everyone else, while they keep sucking off the government tit.

The Dem party IS and has always been the party of FREE STUFF. I WORKED FOR 50 YEARS.
God forbid people would have to actually WORK. The LOAFER ARMY is breaking the back of America. The RIPPING OFF of America has been perfected by "O" as never before. Disability standards have been lowered to mere words. See 'crazy SSDI money' on web. "O" even did commercial with Mexican Prez on how easy it is to get USA $.
"O" added $6.2 Trillion to National debt in 4 years, a record and there will be at least $1+ Trill for next 5-6 years. The TOOTH fairy did not do that "O" did.
And his answer to fix this is the same as last term.
America deserves better than that.

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