How Callous Are Today’s Republicans? Ctd

A reader writes:

You can’t have a post about Republicans attempting to gut food stamps without including race in the conversation. To the Tea Party base, “food stamps” is code for “handouts to lazy black people,” and nothing gets the base more riled up than their hatred of any social program that helps “those people.” I think you’d agree that right now the right-wing GOP is much more motivated by placating and energizing its base than by any other factor. That’s what the votes to repeal Obamacare are about, and that’s what the food stamp votes are about. The simple fact is that the members of Congress who voted for the massive cut in food stamps did it so they could go back to their districts and tell the old, white, angry voters who elected them: “See, I’m in Washington, fighting the good fight to keep lazy, undeserving (*wink wink*) people from taking your hard-earned tax dollars.”

Another is on the same page:

I really think that people outside the South have trouble understanding these sorts of things. It isn’t callous at all. It is entirely about race. It really is a long-standing race issue for many Southern whites, especially as you get closer and closer to the lower end of the middle class, but it can be found at most every strata. An example of the poisonous logic goes like this: “Food stamps are a handout to blacks who don’t want to work.” Now, you could point out the obvious, and say, “But needy white people get food stamps too,” but the response would be: “But that is different, and in any case, white people want to work so they aren’t the problem.” It is basically the same meme about welfare in general that has persisted for a generation.

Another has a more nuanced perspective:

While all the commentators you cite certainly provide insights into why Republicans are so determined to cut food stamps, I think everyone is neglecting a major point of contention that grassroots Republicans have with food stamps:

unlike other federal programs, they see it happening, day in and day out. When I talk to conservative friends, many of them very intelligent and educated, they frequently become upset when discussing welfare in general, and food stamps in particular. I think I’ve identified two related factors that make this such a big deal to certain conservatives.

First, everyone has a story about someone they know of, usually a friend or family member, who cheats the welfare/food stamp system. It’s no surprise that people abuse and cheat government programs. The difference is that the conservatives I talk to take this as a personal insult, rather than an unfortunate but basically unavoidable reality. When the program in question is so visible, they place an outsize importance on SNAP, and they tend to exaggerate its size and corruption.

Second, and I think more importantly, many conservatives I talk to see people at the grocery store, supermarket, or corner store using food stamps day in and day out. It’s this daily grind that wears on them, and leads them to obsess over these programs. Again, the issue is more emotional than rational: even if the people I talk to have a fairly decent sense that SNAP and other assorted welfare programs don’t constitute a major part of the government’s expenditures, it just does not matter. Food stamps are real to them in a way that farm subsidies or defense spending or any other government program just are not. Food stamps rub their noses in it.

Food stamps are the most visible, tangible manifestation of a broad range of government actions they despise. Its conservative’s perfect storm: people they feel are undeserving gaming the system, and you have to stand in line and watch them do it.

I think this also explains the divergence between elite conservative and “grassroots” conservative opinion on SNAP and other welfare programs. How many conservative economists, who may dislike social welfare spending but worry more about larger programs, have stood in line at the supermarket after working 12 hours at a job they hate only to watch someone pay for their food with an EBT card? Combine this with a preexisting distrust and dislike of government, mix in a narrative about cheats running the system, and you’ve got a recipe for conservative pressure to cut food stamps while more people than ever need access to them.

Another shifts focus:

Instead of stigmatizing poverty, criminalizing and punishing it, we ought to stigmatize unearned wealth. Why do we think badly of people who need food stamps even though they are working hard? Why not stigmatize the Walton family members? They earn their billions off the labor of minimum wage employees, then they instruct them to apply for government assistance to feed their families. That kind of behavior takes more gall, more ugly nerve than applying for food stamps after a long day’s work in a warehouse.

Maybe we should stigmatize the corporate CEOs who accept large government subsidies and pay little or no taxes, who then give themselves million dollar bonuses. Maybe we should stigmatize the Republican congressmen who vote against hurricane relief aid for the East Coast but demand flood aid for their districts. Maybe we should stigmatize the Republicans who have voted 42 times to defund the Affordable Care Act (calling it socialist when it isn’t), while accepting socialist healthcare from the US government in the form of Medicare and Medicaid.

Update from a reader who takes issue with the second email above:

I don’t believe this person actually knows any conservatives, and is merely surmising how she thinks those “racist right wingers” think. Most conservative I know don’t say food stamps are for black people; they say food stamps are mostly for dirtbags and low-lifes, period. They don’t give a fuck what someone’s color is! None of them would say it is different for white people. None.

Screaming racism at everything is the easiest bullshit that prevents you from having to deal with reality. Call the GOP callous all you want, but this racism thing is such a small part of it for a small amount of them that it is not even worth discussing.