The Unbearable Lightness of Rand Paul.

Brad DeLong passes along some choice words from Kentucky Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul, the newest star of the GOP:

Q: You want to be a senator from Kentucky, which is a relatively poor and unhealthy state. What do you propose to do to enrich the lives of Kentuckians, if you are elected senator?

A: Well, I think Kentucky would do better, and we all would do better, if we sent less money to Washington... Maybe we need to rethink how we fix things. For example, not only did we steal the Indians' land and put them on reservations, we destroyed their spirit you know by putting them on reservations. I think in some ways the culture of dependency on government destroys people's spirits. Maybe we lift people up in eastern Kentucky by giving them a tax holiday for a year, you know. You have to have jobs coming from businessmen and women. And maybe have no taxes in counties that have fifteen percent unemployment. See if you can get people working again.

Okaaaaaay. So no taxes for a year. Which would mean we'd have to close down the schools. And the parks. And the state hospitals. And there'd be no one to fix the roads. Garbage collection? Heck, you're a self-reliant American -- you figure out what to do with your trash!

Then Paul moves from showing he hasn't thought through the implications of his ideas to showing he knows next to nothing about those federal government programs he's so keen on getting rid of:

But also maybe welfare should have a local person, a man or woman who sits down across the counter from them and says "What are you doing to find work?" and gives them some tough love and says "Go to work!" It can work, you know. We've tried the other way, just coddling people and giving people everything. Why don't we try just getting them to work?

Rand Paul is apparently under the impression that when you go on welfare, you don't have to talk to any "local person" (also known as a "bureaucrat"). I guess he thinks you just stroll down to the office and snag your big fat check from a box sitting by the door. The truth, of course, is that being on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), as "welfare" is now known, isn't such a walk in the park. First of all, it's a block grant administered by the states -- so it turns out, Paul's wish for a "local person" has already been granted!

As for giving them "tough love" by saying, "What are you doing to find work?", well, that's exactly what happens, though it doesn't have quite the magical effect Paul seems to imagine. When welfare reform was passed in 1996 -- it was kind of a big deal, although Paul may not remember -- it imposed a lifetime limit of 60 months on cash benefits, as well as a whole series of work requirements. This has been one of the major problems with the reform: You have to be working to get the benefits, but if you can't find a job, you're out of luck. And the programs states offer to help people find work are notoriously ineffective.

But in Southern states like the one Paul hails from, that's kind of the point. State governments run by people with Paul's outlook tend to be stingy with benefits, work hard to make acquiring those benefits as difficult as possible, and take pride in how many people they can toss off the rolls. As this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, the average monthly TANF benefit in Kentucky in 2008 was a princely $262, the seventh-lowest of all the states. The states with lower benefits were Texas ($244), Louisiana ($240), Alabama ($215), Arkansas ($204), Tennessee ($185), and Mississippi ($170). Just think of that Kentucky TANF recipient, living large on her $3,144 a year, saying, "I don't need to work -- as long as I've got welfare!" Someone really needs to tell her to get a job.

If Paul wants to learn a bit about this issue, he could start by reading CBPP's helpful primer on the topic. But of course he won't. The nice thing about being a libertarian like Paul is that if you think government never works, you can easily excuse yourself from knowing the first thing about how it actually works.

-- Paul Waldman

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