"Clueless." "Stupid." "Middle-class welfare." Sometimes a guy who likes facts and figures gets slapped in the face by reality, and apparently today's my day. Several recent stories showed me how some of these "austerity economics" advocates in Washington really feel about the middle class. I guess I always knew it intellectually, but these stories made me feel it on a visceral level. They let me know exactly what these politicians and pundits feel toward me, my family, and the people I grew up with:
We're not talking about lofty and imperious disdain, either. This isn't the old-school,"look down your monocle with a lofty air" genteel antipathy once practiced by the gentlemen at the club. We're talking about complete and utter contempt, a repugnance so white-hot it feels like it could melt your face off.
Debts of a Salesman
How else are we to interpret remarks like these from John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives? "People in Washington assume that Americans understand how big the problem is," Boehner said of Social Security, "but most Americans don't have a clue." Boehner added, ""I think the president shrank from his responsibility to lead. He knows the numbers as well as we do."
The Wall Street Journal account of Boehner's remarks goes on to quote Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews who, according the the Journal, said "tackling big problems would be tougher if the two sides criticized each other." Rep. Andrews: "It's impossible if the process begins with the parties attacking each other."
Then allow me, Rep. Andrews: Boehner's remarks are profoundly insulting to the American people. Don't worry about his attacks on the President, who can presumably take care of himself. It's the rest of us I'm worried about.
The Speaker said: "I think it's incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out and help Americans understand how big the problem is that faces us ... Once they understand how big the problem is, I think people will be more receptive to what the possible solutions may be."
The Speaker's already on record with his recommended "deficit solution": cuts to Social Security that could, according to the Speaker, help pay for America's war. The Journal article reiterated that Boehner is "determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare."
The most generous interpretation of Boehner's remarks to the Wall Street Journal would be to assume that the Speaker is profoundly ignorant of the funding process for Social Security. But why can't we believe that the Speaker is merely misguided, as comforting as that would be? Because he and his party pushed a tax cut through for the wealthiest Americans last year that would have paid for any expected Social Security shortfall for the next 75 years! Specifically, as Daniel Marans pointed out, "the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans is equivalent to the cost of filling Social Security's 75-year shortfall. Both equal 0.7% of the GDP."
In other words, the Speaker doesn't care about the deficit. Whatever "big challenges" we face financially are largely the making of his party's policies on taxation, military spending, and -- lest we forget -- deregulation, which led to the trillion-dollar Wall Street crash and the BP oil spill. Fellow conservative David Frum has the Speaker pegged when he describes Boehner's remarks this way - "Boehner: I can sell voters on benefit cuts."
That's exactly right. What Boehner's really saying is "I can make these rubes buy anything." Have you ever met a really slick and utterly amoral salesman? There's an uber-hustler personality that's common to all salesmen of this type, whether he's a Wall Street banker or a car salesman in Idaho. One of the most common characteristics of the super-salesman personality is a sense of utter superiority to your sales prospect -- your mark. Boehner's really saying "I can sell you on giving up your future for my rich clients, and I'll make you love me for it."
And yes, we know that Boehner comes from humble beginnings. A lot of super-salesmen do. With this kind of personality, that background creates even more contempt. I rose above your little world, they say to themselves, but you never will. And those of us from middle-class or lower class backgrounds who think there are more important things to dedicate your life to than money and power ... for the John Boehners among us, we're the biggest suckers of them all.
Middle-Class Welfare Queens
Robert Samuelson just doubled down on an amateurish insult to the American middle class by repeating his assertion that "Social Security is welfare." He gets the economics of the issue completely wrong, but the real contempt comes through with his insistence that "We don't call Social Security 'welfare' because it's a pejorative term, and politicians don't want to offend."
No. We don't call Social Security "welfare" because that word, like all words, has a commonly accepted definition. Social Security doesn't meet that definition. Whether you're using the conversational definition ("aid in the form of necessities for those in need") or the legal one ("government benefits distributed to impoverished persons to enable them to maintain a minimum standard of well-being"), the word doesn't describe Social Security. Social Security doesn't target the "impoverished" or "those in need" by design. Here's the word Mr. Samuelson would have found had he done some research: