Monday, September 23, 2013

The Republican Vote to Cut Food Stamps is Really a Decision to Kill the "Useless Eaters"

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15 million Americans were “food insecure” in the United States during 2012. The Great Recession has increased the number of Americans who do not have sufficient food by 30 percent. The fastest growing group of people who need some assistance with obtaining sufficient food to maintain a basic standard of living is the elderly. Hunger in America is estimated to cost the U.S. economy 167 billion dollars.

Approximately 20 percent of American children live in poverty. Food insecurity and hunger leads to a long-term decline in life spans and a diminished standard of living for whole communities.

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut 39 billion dollars from federal food assistance programs. Their vote is more than just the next act in the ongoing politics of cruelty by the Republican Party in the Age of Obama.

It is a decision to kill poor people.

In America, discussions of poverty are linked in the public imagination to stereotypes about race, class, and gender. The face of poverty is not white (the group which in fact comprises the largest group of recipients for government aid). Instead, it is the mythical black welfare queen, or an “illegal” immigrant who is trying to pilfer the system at the expense of “hard working” white Americans.

Discussions about poverty are also easily transformed into claims about morality and virtue. Consequently, while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is very efficient and involves very little if any fraud on the part of its participants, stereotypes about the poor can be used to legitimate the policing and harassment of Americans in need of food support through mandatory drug testing and other unnecessary programs.

Here, the long-term end goal for Republicans is revealed for what it is—a desire to make being a poor person into a crime.

Such a project serves a broader effort by conservatives to further transfer resources upward to the 1 percent from the American people. The decision by Republicans to further punish the poor, while the United States is in the midst of one of the greatest economic calamities in recent memory, also exists in the context of a Republican Party whose last presidential nominee suggested that 47 percent of the American public are human leeches and parasites.

Their vote to cut food assistance programs (as well as the social safety net more broadly) exists in a bizarre political moment when the Republican Party is possessed by a radical and destructive ideology, one that is a mix of Ayn Randian fantasies, austerity and neoliberalism run amok, and libertarianism processed through the carnivalesque freak show performance and eliminationist shtick of Right-wing talk radio.

The Republican Party’s hatred of poor people overlaps with its use of white racial resentment and symbolic racism to win over white voters in the post civil rights era.

For decades, conservatism and racism have been political intimates in the United States. The Great Recession and the rise of austerity politics have facilitated a frightening union of those forces on the American Right.

With the introduction of the “Southern Strategy” during the Nixon era, and now spurred on by the election of the country’s first black president, The Tea Party GOP has been fully transformed into what is best described as a “Herrenvolk” political organization.

“Herrenvolk”--what literally means “the Master Race” or “chosen people”--is a description of a society where citizenship is tiered and hierarchical along lines of “race”. As such, the dominant group receives the full benefits of social services, transfer payments, and other supports from the State. The out-group, marked as the Other, is viewed as not deserving of such resources.

South Africa and Nazi Germany were Herrenvolk societies. The United States during its centuries-long slave regime, and then the many decades of Jim and Jane Crow, was also a society organized along similar principles of racialized citizenship.

In this arrangement, the poor and others among the out-group are stigmatized as “useless eaters” who should be separated from the body politic if some other use cannot be found for them.

I use this powerful phrase with great care. While originally used by the Nazis and the American eugenics movement to describe the handicapped, as well as the physically and mentally disabled, “useless eaters” can also be understood in the context of a Herrenvolk society to include those “surplus” people who are not “properly” contributing to society.

History echoes. For example, during the 2012 election (and through to the present) Republicans have used the language of “makers” and “takers” to describe their view of American society in which the former are “productive” citizens, and the latter are “drains” on society and “surplus” people.

The Republican Party demonstrates its Herrenvolk ethic in a number of other ways too.

Most importantly, the Republican Party’s Herrenvolk value system is enabled by its voting base where 88 percent of their voters in the 2012 presidential election were white.

The policies which result will almost by necessity serve “white” political interests, however perceived or defined by the Republican leadership and its media apparatus. This claim is buttressed by Eric Knowles of New York University whose recent research details how the Tea Party serves as a white identity organization for its members.

It is also important to call attention to how the Tea Party is both older and whiter than the nation as a whole. The country which they yearn for and “want to take back” is an appeal to the world of Jim and Jane Crow, unapologetic white male privilege, and where white people were subsidized and protected by the State at the expense of others.

As highlighted by Ira Katznelson’s essential book When Affirmative Action was White, the white middle class in the post-World War 2 era was a creation of the federal government. 

The VA and FHA home loan programs were not equally accessible by blacks and other people of color. The G.I. Bill, a stepping stone to education and middle class identity, was also practically limited for African-American veterans and other people of color.

Those and other similar programs made the white American middle class and constituted one of the single greatest moments of wealth creation in the history of the United States. Such policies were examples of racially tiered citizenship in practice as day-to-day government policy.

Herrenvolk America is the dreamland and formative political and social experience that the Tea Party, as the beating heart of the Republican Party, yearns to create.

In chasing the dream of a conservative political Whiteopia, the Republican Party has also succeeded in rolling back the voting rights of racial minorities, young people, the elderly, and the poor across the country.

It also uses the racially incendiary language of “secession” and “nullification” that is drawn directly from the American Civil War and the “States Rights” movement.

This is a practical embrace of the white supremacist politics of Jim and Jane Crow, the neo Confederacy, and a rejection of the victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

The faux populist language of “real Americans” deployed by Sarah Palin for example, is a clear signal to a sense of “us” and “them”, a divide that cannot neatly be separated from a sense of a shared racial identity on the part of the speaker and its intended audience where to be “American” is to be “white”.

Birtherism is predicated on racial bigotry and the idea that for many white Americans a black man is de facto not a “real” citizen. Thus, Barack Obama is symbolically unfit to be President of the United.

The use of coded and overt racial appeals by Republicans to attack President Barack Obama is further evidence of how white racial resentment has triumphed as a type of common sense language for the Right in this political moment.

All white people do not benefit from being members of a Herrenvolk society in the same way. Anticipating this arrangement, activist and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois famously described white skin privilege as a type of “psychological wage” that does not always translate into equal material gains or rewards for its owners. In many cases, Whiteness and white racism actually hurt white people.

Thus, the following puzzle: the Republican Party is cutting food stamps under the cover of punishing the black and brown poor; in reality, white people in the heart of Red State America will be hurt the most by such a policy.

In the Tea Party GOP’s dream of Herrenvolk America all white people are equal—and borrowing from the Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm—but some white people are more equal than others.

The Republican Party has voted to kill the “useless eaters” by cutting food assistance programs. But, data on food stamp use from the USDA suggests that such a policy will cause great pain to Republican voters.

How do we reconcile this contradiction?

Ultimately, populist conservatives and the Tea Party base are so drunk on white identity politics that they are unable to realize that the plutocrats and the 1 percent have just as much disdain for them, regardless of their common racial identity and skin color, as they do the black and brown poor.

Class trumps race. Unfortunately, the common good is betrayed again by how too many poor and working class white conservatives cling to white identity politics instead of seeking shared alliances of mutual interest, aid, and support across the color line.


Vic78 said...

You can't expect much from people who fell for the trickle down theory. What really tickles me about them is that they believe that they're John Galt. Yes, a bunch of middle class nimrods think they're special. It would please me if they found their utopia and stayed the hell away from civilized society.

Wavenstein said...

It's a hell of a thing to come to the realization that two social constructs, race and money, will be the death of us all. If I'm a poor white person, is the mirror the only place I can turn to knowing that I voted for my executioner?

chauncey devega said...

since at least the 17th century. but those psychic wages of whiteness do pay well in many regards.

chauncey devega said...

Middle class? Many of them aspire to just be that. old con game. When they wake up it will be too late.

Black Sci-Fi said...

By the time the victims of the Tea Party “Herrenvolk” are identified, no one will care.That's the real message in "recession" politics. Everyone knew that recessions produce class polarity and racial polarity. Clearly, the mother's milk of America is racial polarity.

To our credit, a political majority of Americans saw class polarity coming and we elected Obama instead of McCain and Romney.This happend despite the refusal of the MSM to identify Romney's version of “Herrenvolk” as EVIL. They instead chose to concentrate on the class issues Romney so proudly displayed.
I wonder how things might have been different were the Republicans able to field a younger populist candidate in “Herrenvolk” clothing. Considering the populist mileage Sarah Palin got, the Republicans shot themselves in the foot by adhering to the "next guy up" method of selecting presidential candidates.

Can Obama "veto" the Farm Bill or will he put his political capital behind Obamacare. Can he do both without the help of a crusading press underscoring the points you've made by putting a "white face" on SNAP. Or, will this issue, as current evidence would suggest, get the "Chuck Todd" treatment and give "evil" equal footing without a fact-checking debate.

The MSM has been complicit in the rise of “Herrenvolk” here in America just like their professional peers did in pre-Nazi Germany. And, they do so out of self interest. After all..........they're WHITE and seek the same defacto privilege that was commonplace for prior generations of white Americans. Why rock the boat?

hefetone said...

"Social construct" is a social construct. The argument is circular and irrelevant. Stop talking pomo and come back to a world where belief and truth are viewed as different things.

Ed said...

Enough with the racist crap. The only "takers" are the politicians. If you voted, you're getting what you deserve.

Learning is Eternal said...

Being they are the largest group of recipients of gov't aid as stated above. How long before they realize they shooting themselves in the foot & ass?

Learning is Eternal said...

After you take a long walk off a short cliff...

Arachne646 said...

Wasn't it Mark Twain that said there aren't any poor people in America, just temporarily embarrassed millionaires?

chauncey devega said...

Second "what?"

JamesMMartin said...

Wait a minute! You're implying that the conservative ("tea party") types in the GOP are Nazis. This is verboten in the playbook of the politically correct. I hope you will pardon the pun, but I for one am glad someone is finally calling a spade a spade.

lexy677 said...

They will never realize that they shot themselves in the foot. They will blame blacks for their misfortunes and turn their guns on them. Its just a matter of time.

Learning is Eternal said...

They been turned they guns on us...

SgtCedar said...

"The Republican Vote to Cut Food Stamps is Really a Decision to Kill the 'Useless Eaters'"

"Useless eaters," otherwise known as the Republican base.

chauncey devega said...

Sharp. Do they realize how they too are the Soylent Green for the 1 percent?

chauncey devega said...

Hmmmm....same family and tree. Related branch.

chauncey devega said...

I feel you. But what of this more frightening possibility. The elites on the Right know exactly what they are doing long-term. What do we reasonable people do to respond?

SgtCedar said...

The Romneys have a copy of the book "How to Serve People" in each of their houses. I wonder if it is in the library or in the kitchen?

The Sanity Inspector said...

Anyone can have an emergency, of course; and most of us are glad to help them out. But in recent years the U. S. government has been on a big push to get more people signed up for food assistance. (This is in conformity with the dynamic at work in any department of the Executive branch of government: If they're being paid to solve a problem, the last thing they want to do is solve it.) The harm is not so much the potential for fraud, as it is the continuing mainstreaming of public aid. If being on government relief becomes The New Normal, then the stigma of it will disappear, and more people will decide to simply repose in the safety hammock. The same thing happened in our society decades ago regarding debt: once it was a moral failing, now it's no big deal since everyone does it. And look at the ruination that attitude has wrought in the economy and our national finances over the past decade alone.

chauncey devega said...

We have structural unemployment, flat wages, and gross wealth inequality coupled with the new normal being part time labor w. no benefits so that even more resources can siphoned up to the 1 percent.

Your comments on debt do not necessarily apply to all types of debt. Would you like to return to debtors prisons and poor houses--not that we do not de facto have them now--for those who "morally failed" by going into debt?

How do you feel about the submerged State and all of the benefits that accrue to the middle class and rich, a group, the latter especially who really are on the public dole and get much more out of the system than they put in?

Discussions of "public aid" are so racialized and gendered in the public discourse as to override meaningful policy solutions and to hide the fact that the group who disproportionately receives and benefits from said programs are white folks.

I am a fan of a guaranteed minimum income and would scrap most of what counts as public aid and transfer payments anyway. More efficient.

chauncey devega said...

Twilight Zone on a loop? I don't think they are that cool.

chauncey devega said...

That my face is the result of Fox News as the political meth it is. Avoid at all costs.

chauncey devega said...

He was witty with his pithy.

SgtCedar said...

I figured you would get the reference. No, they will not get it. Mitt was probably cutting the hair of perceived gays when Twilight Zone was on TV. You are showing your age buddy.

Julie said...

Third "what?"

Mich Caruso said...

It was John Steinbeck

"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires"

LucyTooners said...

What you are missing is that fact that wages in this country have not kept up with the cost of living for decades. In order to really live a decent standard of living on a modest income way less than $100k per year almost everyone has to live on credit now and then. We cannot save for emergencies, save for retirement, pay bills, buy cars, buy houses, pay for educations making $40k per year and pay cash for everything.
Public aid is just that an aid. People that live on it are either impaired or temporarily in a bind. There are few that would be considered "takers". Our citizens that rely on public assistance are still poor and aren't living the life of a queen as some TP people want to believe.

Clark DeeBague said...

Boy is that an accurate assessment of the situation today. I am so disappointed for our nation.

privatechaos said...

I'd like to point out this is a successful divide-and-conquer strategy come to fruition. Therefore the solution is to get those aforementioned middle-class red voters to understand, via intensive ad campaigns and social media blitzes, that they are on the same side as the progressives, and the ruling class means them harm.

Tea-baggers who aren't in on the 'joke' are obviously stubbornly entrenched in their opposition, but if they're NOT paid trolls they will come around sooner or later, and with a vengeance!

privatechaos said...

I'd like to say that the middle class is shrinking, and that a GROWING middle class is extremely important to the health of our society. The ranks of the poor are growing instead, and where do you suppose they are coming from, and where are they going?

People in the middle class are not getting richer. The top one percent and more correctly, the top .01 percent are indeed amassing more wealth over time, since the disastrous terms of President >cough< >puppet< Reagan.

Cheryl Dymond said...

'same as it EVER was, ...same as it EVER was'

Steve Chisnall said...

Poverty IS a crime.
And the poor are the VICTIMS of that crime, NOT the perpetrators.