Wednesday, September 14, 2011
When Conservatives Say They Want "Limited Government" This is What They Mean: Behold the Ugliness of "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT"
When Conservatives scream at the moon about the "evils of big government" this is what they mean...
One of the enduring debates in American politics since the emergence of neo-liberal, colorblind political discourse in the late 1970s and early 1980s--and its skillful deployment by the dream merchants and propagandists on the Right--has been the degree (if any) that white racial resentment drives what are ostensibly "race neutral" policy positions.
Ignoring for a moment Lee Atwater's naked confession on the matter, rank and file former Reagan Democrats, suburban swing voters, and today's Tea Party GOPers would bristle in defense at the suggestion that race or racism plays any role at all in their disdain for "big government."
To Conservatives, such an argument is bizarre and strange: How could tax cuts and government rollbacks have anything at all to do with racism or racial resentment? These are just "common sense" solutions that benefit all Americans regardless of their color. Moreover, to even suggest that racism may have anything to do with the drive to implement broad austerity policies which work to gut public services is itself "racist," and further evidence of "identity politics" and "class warfare" by Liberals and Progressives against well-intentioned Conservatives.
Of course, the evidence suggests otherwise. The chants of "take our country back" beg the response "from who?" The narrative of "real America" plays on xenophobia towards non-whites, and a fear of how some type of Other is always at the gates, ready and willing to steal the hard earned just rewards of the (white) American middle class. Ultimately, in a previous year the fixation would have been on Reagan's mythical welfare queens or nefarious "quotas" and "affirmative action" programs that deny white men job opportunities.
In the Age of Obama and the Great Recession, the designated Other is the alien in the White House who happens to be black, Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, public unions, and those who are not Christian Nationalists--the latter category being a group of people who are de facto outside of the grand tradition of American exceptionalism and pro-ordained greatness left to the People by the Christ loving founding fathers.
"It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" is a sharp lens that embodies much of the Conservative imagination on questions of public policy and "small government." As demonstrated by the 2012 Republican presidential debates, the questions and working assumptions that go unstated among a political community (tax cuts are a cure for economic dilemmas; "unproductive" Americans who are not "job creators" are in fact "leeches" and "parasites" to be expunged from the body politic; America is a Christian Nation and faith matters above all else in matters of public policy) are at least as revealing as those which are stated openly (sick people should be left to die if they don't have insurance; cheers at the idea of executing people; a fetish-like fascination with womenfolk's reproductive organs).
In much the same way, when the Right talks about small government they are in fact thinking about "It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" and the song's debased caricatures of black women and baby boy black man children who spread their seed all over urban communities like a leaky misdirected faucet in a Depression era flophouse.
In all, what reasonable person wouldn't want to cut off such people from the government tit?
But here the facts, as they often do, get in the way. First, the welfare queen looms large, but she is never White--the latter being the majority of folks on the public dole. Said obsession with limited government and waste seems to exist outside of a reality where welfare was radically changed by the Clinton Administration and "It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" seems in need of a Welfare to Work remix.
In addition, there is no outrage over corporate fraud of the American tax payer, hedge fund managers who pay little to no taxes in the new Gilded Age, billions of dollars in waste by the military industrial complex, economic supports and tax breaks for the suburban upper and middle classes, tax breaks for the rich which exasperate income inequality and prolong the Great Recession, or the rise of a national security and terror apparatus that functions as an extra legal Leviathan.
The role of race in Conservatism's rhetoric of small government is revealed both by how specific its color arousal syndrome is (at the Other and rarely if ever towards Whiteness) as well as its capacity for misdirection (never at the big players who are actually working against the Common Good and subverting the economy).
Those who sympathize with the human story caricaturized by "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT" are also in a trap as well. To deny the reality spoken to by the song is to deny the Occam razor test for the human capacity to game the system. Good people are good people regardless of class. Bad folks are bad folks regardless of social location. Resources and social structures provide the incentives and opportunities to maximize one's goals--however dishonest, crooked, outside of the lines of propriety, or advantage seeking they may be.
Most certainly, there are women straight out of central casting who view food stamps and public assistance as a credit card of sorts and raise their children to believe that receiving support from the State is a "job" to be aspired to, a career to invest in. Likewise, they have twins in "respectable circles" who broke this country's economy by advocating for irresponsible tax cuts for the very richest Americans, embracing robber baron capitalism, and gutted the American middle class through financial crookery.
Their crimes are different by orders of magnitude. That fact is irrelevant. Herein lies the rub: Colorblind Conservatism looks at the former with immediate suspicion and disdain, while the latter looks back in the mirror and is greeted with a smile. In all, everyone's sin should be nobody's sin...except if you are poor and black and female, for then you are expected to be more noble and good than the White public at large.
Ironically, as adherents to a philosophy built upon unrepentant selfishness one would think that Conservatives would be more sympathetic towards the welfare queens and others who live to game the system.
Greed is good? Is it not? Or maybe just for "us" and not for "them?"