Ronald Wilson Reagan, February 6, 1911 June 5, 2004, was the 40th President of the United States, serving from 1981 to 1989. Prior to that, he was the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975 and a radio, film and television actor. | Photo: Archives
It's hard to believe, but in today's Republican Party, Nixon and Reagan are the left-wingers.
As president, Nixon proposed a massive expansion of federal anti-poverty programs. Reagan, although he conjured up the image of the "welfare queen" who pops out babies to get government checks, also supported expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for working people at the bottom of the income ladder.
Today's Republicans, by contrast, not only object to the existence of a social safety net, they object to the existence of the poor. They condemn the poor, not merely for collecting food stamps or living on Social Security but for not paying as much in taxes as the rich.
The "Wall Street Journal" kicked this off a decade ago by labeling the poor "lucky duckies" for their low taxes. In 2010, after criticism of the 1 percent entered the mainstream, the right-wing countered with the image of the "53 percent," the hard-working Americans who pay income tax, in contrast to the mooching 47 percent who do not. This was frequently phrased as "the 53 percent who pay taxes," ignoring that the working poor pay sales tax and Social Security tax.
Now it seems that mooching is the least of the poor's sins. Pundit Victor David Hanson asserted last year that low tax rates on the rich are much less of a problem than "noncompliance" by the poor, implying that the poor aren't simply lucky, they're actually cheating the taxman. Matthew Vadum tops that by claiming that registering the poor to vote "is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country." (presumably when the wealthy bring the destruction, he's okay with it).
Or consider Megan McArdle's recent piece in "The Atlantic," in which she claims that even if the poor had good education and nice homes, they'd still be poor. How so? Because poverty is the result
|Republicans not only object to the social safety net, they object to the existence of poor.|
of bad life choices: Some people lose all their money through stupid decisions, so it's logical to conclude all poor people make stupid decisions and that's the real reason they're poor. And if they can't climb out of poverty, that's actually a good thing
In a January "Wall Street Journal" column, Charles Murray likewise argued that the income gap is entirely the result of the rich having better culture and morals (he focuses on whites, so he doesn't have to consider race as a factor). Therefore, government can't fix the problem, but rich people condemning the poor will: "Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms."
This must be comfortable stuff for the rich. If the poor are stupid and immoral and rich people are smart and decent, then the current system gives them both what they deserve in fact, the poor probably have it too good. So there's no need to reform the economy, tax the rich or regulate business because the system works perfectly, awarding riches to the worthy and poverty to the vile.
John Kenneth Gilbraith had it right: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."