Lucky Duckies In the Crosshairs

Ed Kilgore explains that the working poor have become the new "welfare queens":

Underlying this assault, there seems to be a current of genuine anger at the working families who no longer receive "welfare as we knew it," but remain beneficiaries of some form of redistribution, even if it’s only progressive tax rates. You can debate back and forth endlessly about whether there is a racial element in this hostility, as there definitely was in the old "welfare wedge" politics. The iron-clad conviction of many conservatives that race-conscious federal housing policies caused the housing and financial meltdowns is not an encouraging sign, in any case. But it is clear that the social peace so many anticipated in 1996—after it had been established that no one receiving public assistance could be accused of refusing to work—has now been broken. Work is no longer enough, it seems, to avoid the moral taint of being a "welfare bum."

The only thing that's missing is a pithy moniker to refer to these lucky duckies living on easy street -- or, OK, living on Poverty Lane, but somehow screwing the rest of us. The argument about taxes is not only factually bogus (I explained here), but positively diabolical in its cleverness. When Republicans tell people that nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax, they know quite well that what people will hear is "nearly half of Americans pay no taxes." This is false -- those who have no federal income tax liability still pay payroll taxes, property taxes, state taxes, sales taxes, and gas taxes. But since people conflate all those together as "taxes," even those who themselves have incomes too low to have federal income tax liability think that they're not part of the shiftless half getting off easy. So nearly everyone can hear the message and think it's referring to other people who are less honorable than they are. You may not have noticed it, but this argument about the leeches at the bottom, and in particular the misleading argument about taxes, is becoming central to Republican rhetoric. Not only are the presidential candidates and GOP members of Congress repeating it, it's in heavy rotation on Fox News, conservative talk radio, and outlets like the Wall Street Journal. As the party of the wealthy, the GOP has to continuously stoke the politics of resentment, making sure that the finger of accusation is always pointed downward and never up. People could put blame for our problems on banks, corporations, the wealthy, and those who represent the interests of all three. But that would never do. So you have to convince them that if the economy is bad, it's because of poor people. If there's a big deficit, it isn't because of the Bush tax cuts, it's because poor people aren't paying their share. And if there's one thing Republicans have experience at, it's creating and directing resentment.

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