JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 26, 2010
This brief interview with a conservative protester outside President Obama's health care was telling:
"Yes, we need health-care reform, but why couldn't we have taken it step by step?" asked Kitty Rehberg, a 71-year-old farmer from nearby Rowley, who held a colonial-era American flag as she protested near Mr. Obama's speech. She said the president's policies would cost her "a lot from my pocket book" to help people who "just want freebies."
Rehberg begins by repeating the GOP's poll-tested line that the concept of health reform is terrific, but we should do it "step by step" instead of all at once. Yet she soon transitions to the view that truly lies at the heart of the conservative view, which is that health care reform is unfair because it redistributes resources from people like her to no-good freeloaders.
Note also that, in this instance, contempt for people who "just want freebies" is being expressed by a Medicare recipient and farmer. Agriculture, of course, is the most-heavily subsidized industry in the United States. Talk about getting freebies!
This complaint from an agriculture-receiving Medicare recipient reminds me of something. I've written quite a bit about the Ayn Rand-ism that has become the dominant Republican domestic policy creed over the last year or so, and how the apotheosis of this vision can be found in Paul Ryan's Roadmap, a document that has been received by conservatives as if delivered by Moses at Mount Sinai. Ryan's roadmap attacks the functions of government that mitigate against risk and bad fortune:
Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.
What I failed to note when writing that is that there are actually a fair number of government programs that liberals don't support, but which survive because they serve powerful constituencies. Agriculture subsidies are a prime example, but there are others, especially delivered through the tax code. Sweeping plans to reshape government that ignore political realities, like Ryan's, usually clean out these kinds of subsidies, which lack support from policy analysts across the political spectrum. The remarkable thing about Ryan's roadmap is that he leaves them all standing. He proposes to eliminate progressive taxation, balkanize the health care market and gut social insurance, but leave every penny of corporate welfare in place. It's a remarkable exercise in throwing out the baby and leaving the bathwater, and a telling window into the ideology driving Ryan and his party.
Update: Ezra Klein writes to note that, to Ryan's credit, he has supported President Obama's plan to cap crop subsidy payments. Still, his Roadmap remains the definitive statement of his economic vision, and increasingly that of the party, and it lacks any such reform.