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Punishing the Poor

In the first days of the shutdown, conservatives alternated between celebrating and downplaying the impact.’s Erick Erickson insisted Americans would barely notice the government shutdown. But the consequences of the government shutdown are only too real for the families who will lose food assistance, and the children who would lose access to Head Start.

Read between the lines. It’s not that no Americans will suffer as a result of the shutdown. It’s that no Americans will suffer who don’t deserve to suffer anyway. According to the conservative worldview, they are the “immoral undisciplined people” who receive undeserved benefits from government, and those who provide those benefits.

Conservative rhetoric about low-income Americans sounds a lot like conservative rhetoric about government workers. Once, Fox Business’s Stuart Varney provides a  good example. On the June 5 edition Fox & FriendsVarney proudly admitted he was “being mean to poor people,” as he fulminated against the Earned Income Tax Credit and those who rely on it.

Varney is hardly alone. Conservatives alternate between mocking the poorblaming the poor for their condition, or angrily insisting that the poor, the unemployed, etc., have it too good, or claiming that they’re slashing at the safety net because they care so much about low-income families and the working poor.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, the problem isn’t that Republicans can’t fix poverty. That’s true, of course. Conservative policies usually make poverty worse.  The problem is that conservatives don’t want to fix poverty.

Poverty isn’t the problem, in the conservative worldview. Poor people are the problem. The government can help many people, but it will inevitably help people conservatives believe shouldn’t get help from the government. After all, if they were “better people” they wouldn’t need help in the first place.

Governing a La Carte

Almost immediately after voting to shut down the government, conservatives complained about the consequences. When desperately ill people — including kids with cancer — were turned away from NIH clinical trials, House Republicans donned lab coats for a press conference demanding the reopening of the agency they voted to close. Viral videos spread of House Republicans demanding that park rangers reopen the very war memorials and parks that Republicans closed when they shut down the government.

Conservatives had little to say about the 9 million vulnerable women and children who rely on WIC program, or the 49 million Americans who live in “food insecure” households and rely on food stamps who stand to lose vital benefits if the shutdown continues. In states Utah shut down its programs almost immediately after the shutdown began. Louisiana’s program, which serves 64,000, does not have the funds to operate during an extended shutdown.

Conservative commentator Bill Kristol said that, “no one in Arkansas is going to starve,” even though 85,000 people in Arkansas could lose food assistance because of the shutdown. Kristol insisted that cities, state government, and charities would step in. That’s unlikely, since city and state governments are already strapped, thanks in large part to Republicans blocking federal aid to cities and states.

Plus, the shutdown has hit charities with a “double whammy,” occurring as it has in the middle of the federal government’s biggest charity drive. Charities that rely on donations from federal workers may not reach fundraising goals, even after the shutdown ends. Some of the same charities are facing increased demand,  from the same furloughed federal workers who previously supported them.

Charity may have saved Head Start, for the moment. The shutdown led to the closure of Head Start programs in several states, gave at least one billionaire a chance to generate positive press at little cost. John and Laura Arnold were lauded in the press when they donated $10 million of their $2.8 billion fortune to the National Head Start Association, to keep the program’s doors open.

None of articles about the Arnolds’ rescue of Head Start mentioned that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are part of a campaign to undermine public pensions. For a mere pittance (to them), the Arnolds bought enough good PR by appearing to help impoverished children to make the media forget their efforts to impoverish retirees. It may end up costing the Arnolds nothing, if the money works out to be a temporary loan.

House Republicans proposed piecemeal measures to open the part of the government they like, or that have popular appeal, including child nutrition programs. However, even the National WIC Association opposed the GOP’s “a la carte” approach to governing. In a statement denouncing the Republican sponsored measure, the association called it, “”a cynical ploy to use low-income nutritionally at-risk mothers and young children as political pawns for political ends,” and said that funding WIC in a “piecemeal, short-term, stop-gap manner” is unacceptable.

Trickle Down Shutdown Misery

Middle-class, working-class, and low-income Americans are still waiting for the prosperity that was supposed to “trickle-down” to them as a result of tax cuts for the wealthy. They are still waiting for the “recovery” enjoyed by the one percent to “trickle-down” to their homes and communities.

As the shutdown drags on, all that’s trickled-down from conservative politics is misery; whether its government workers who are going without paychecks, families in danger of losing food assistance, small businesses losing money, or local economies losing millions of dollars every day that government shutdown continues.

And all because Americans elected, and re-elected a president who campaign on health-care reform, Congress passed a health care reform law, and the Supreme Court upheld it. Republicans can say all they want that they are doing what’s best for the country. It feels a lot like revenge, and polls show that Americans are not fooled by Republicans saying otherwise.

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