Something to Behold

It’s become something of a cliche: disabled, aged or relatively impoverished whites who literally could not survive without federal government assistance in many case nonetheless raging against Washington, “hand outs” and government dependency. It’s there with a vengeance in this article in National Journal by Beth Reinhard on GOP plans to double down on race-based class warfare as the ticket to success in the 2014 elections.

Kudos to Mark Karlin of Buzzflash for bringing the piece to my attention and specifically the passage I’m about to quote in full.

Meet Terry Rupe …

“I don’t have any use for the federal government,” Rupe said, even though his household’s $13,000 yearly income comes exclusively from Washington. “It’s a bunch of liars, crooks, and thieves, and they’ve never done anything for me. I’m not ungrateful, but I don’t have much faith in this health care law. Do I think it’s going to work? No. Do I think it’s going to bankrupt the country? Yes.”

Rupe sounds like he could be standing on a soapbox at a tea-party rally, but he happens to be sitting in a back room at the Family Health Centers’ largest clinic in Louisville—signing up for Medicaid. Rupe, who is white, insists that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Africa get more government assistance than he does. (Illegal immigrants do not, in fact, qualify for Medicaid or coverage under the Affordable Care Act.)

“President Obama’s idea is taking from the working people to give to the people who won’t take care of themselves. It’s redistribution of wealth,” Rupe said. “I’ve always taken care of myself. You got these young girls who go out and get pregnant and then they get $1,500 a month for having a kid, so they have two.”

The theme of Reinhard’s article are what we might call the contradictions of Republican electoral revanchism. Thematically Republicans are now all about ‘the makers and the takers’. But if you actually want to pursue this pinched logic, they’re now dangerously dependent on ‘taker’ votes, largely because of their increasing dependence on older voters.

For what it’s worth, I think this contradiction is actually pretty sustainable as an electoral trope because of the way it rests partly on misinformation but also on racial tribalism and animus.

I don’t see Terry having an epiphany any time soon about social insurance.

But here’s where the near-term politics disconnects from the policy realities. The Democratic fantasy scenario is not only that everyone decides that Obamacare is awesome but that that recognition has a transformative effect on their beliefs about government in general. This might be termed an excessive belief in rationality. What I think you do see however is how the dread reaper Obamacare is already becoming embedded in the nation’s political fabric in a way that will never be undone.

I expect Terry will continue to rant against Mexicans, blacks, Africans and all manner of racial freeloaders and vote for Mitch McConnell to keep them in line. I also think he’ll be insured, which is the fundamental good in itself. And I think it will quickly become impossible to turn back the clock on the millions of who have care because of Obamacare and the tens of millions who have dramatically improved care (pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits, etc.) because of it. And Terry will become part of the expanding Obamacare constituency which will make it impossible to repeal even as he rages against Obama’s socialism and Obamacare. This shouldn’t surprise us. It’s the world we already live in with regards to Medicare when the GOP’s increasing number of older voters demand the government keep its hands off their Medicare.

I think it’s quite possible that Obamacare could hurt the Democrats in the 2014 elections. I think it’s far from clear that it will. But I think it’s totally possible, especially because the key Senate races are disproportionately stacked in states like are demographically similar to Kentucky. States like Arkansas and Louisiana, for instance.

But if your fundamental concern is with policy outcomes over near-term political scores, this is okay.

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