Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Steve Benen and TPM's Eric Kleefeld wrote about a YouTube video that's making the rounds of the righty blogosphere. In the video, a righty woman at town meeting makes a partisan point by challenging Democratic congressman Norm Dicks of Washington State to pluck a twenty-dollar bill from her hand. Steve B., in particular, has a theory about this -- but as I'll explain below, I have a somewhat different theory.

The main part of this woman's statement to the congressman:

... One side is demanding that your vote culminate in legislation that removes the government from health care and leaves people alone, free to live their lives, earn their own money, and keep the fruits of their own labor. The other side is demanding that your vote culminate in legislation that actively seeks to plunder from some in order to satisfy arbitrary needs as determined by you and other bureaucrats.

So here is my question: If you are so keen to forcibly take from one person to give to another who you deem as needier than me, if you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this twenty dollars from me and use it as a down payment on this health care plan!

Steve Benen writes: "The goal is to deem the uninsured as unworthy of assistance." He cites an Ed Kilgore article at Salon that describes this as "a new version of the old 'welfare wedge': the emotionally powerful conservative argument that Democrats want to use Big Government to take away the good things of life from people who have earned them and give them to people who haven't."

In other words, people who'll benefit from health care reform are (as the title of Kilgore's article calls them) welfare queens. Y'know -- them.

Well, yes and no.

That's a major theme, but there's something else going on here. As Kilgore writes about the early days of the Obama administration,

Most famously, CNBC financial reporter Rick Santelli became a right-wing folk hero for a rant about the injustice of being asked to help the "losers" who took out mortgages they should have known they couldn't pay. This was at about the same time as Republican members of Congress began handing out copies of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," with its prophecy of a dystopic society in which socialist "looters" and Christian "altruists" had brought the United States to its knees, and some conservative agitators began urging "productive" Americans to emulate Rand's plutocratic heroes by "going Galt" and refusing to contribute to the welfare state.

To me, that's the key point. It's the radical notion that any government transfer of money from anyone to anyone else is unfair on the face of it. That's what the woman in the video is getting at when she sneers at the notion that "it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs." She's saying that no government social program is moral. As far as I can tell, she's arguing for a tax rate of zero.

Now, I don't think this woman has the guts to take the "taxation is theft" idea to its logical conclusion, which is the abolition of government. Nor do the people cheering her on in the video have the guts. Not do the A-list righty bloggers who are gleefully linking the video, or the Fox News and talk radio hosts who'll almost certainly be fawning over this woman soon.

But they all reserve the right to wield this radical libertarian/anarchist notion as a rhetorical weapon whenever it suits them. And they know it's a powerful rallying cry.

Using it, they can define anyone as a socialist -- a swing-district congressman, the local paper, the president of the United States, their next-door neighbors. And when they do so, their compatriots will shake their fists in rage.

It doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. These people aren't really ready to talk about abolishing Social Security and Medicare and the U.S. military and the FBI and the FDA and the CDC and the national parks. They're not really ready to talk about abolishing local police and fire departments and public schools (well, maybe public schools).

But they're ready to commie-bait everyone they disagree with. And when there are enough of them in a room, they can, using mob anger and their not-thought-out definition, succeed in defining us all as traitorous, treasonous, thieving communists.


DO I CONTRADICT MYSELF? Yeah, I said this morning that most Americans don't respond to this sort of commie-baiting. I think that's true of most Americans. But it can be highly effective in a town-hall mob, or in a swing-voter district. I hope it's not highly effective on people who are deranged and armed.

No comments: