Outrage of the Week: attacks on The Commons
It's time now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.
This time it's not particular thing or event, but rather several things that have happened over the past few moths that serve to illustrate a point I keep trying to make about the attack on what I call The Commons, that notion that we are a society and that as a result there is an area of mutual interest, available to and shared by all, the notion of a mutual, society-wide responsibility each of us has to the other.
Back on October, Maine Gov. Paul LePage proposed dealing with unemployment faced by recent college grads by creating a system of what amounted to indentured service, where employers would get a tax break for hiring a new grad and paying off some of their student loans - in return for which that student would be bound to that company for a period of three to five years. After which, apparently, they could be dumped without having worked long enough to obtain any significant benefits as the company hires another "fresh young mind," as LePage called them.
The following month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou defended his decision to not expand Medicaid in the state by saying that this would help poor people “live the American Dream” because they won’t be “dependent on the American government.” This even though the majority of people who stand to benefit from the Medicaid expansion are already working.
More recently, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said that by refusing to ask for a federal waiver to continue providing Food Stamps for unemployed single people, which will result in 65,000 people in the state losing their benefits, he is "ennobling" the poor by forcing those he apparently considers to be lazy bums to go get a job rather than living in the luxury that $150-$200 a month in benefits provides.
In Texas, we've seen a proposal to allow a majority of a 14 member “joint legislative committee on nullification” to have the power to suspend any federal law within Texas’s borders, with the suspension becoming permanent if ratified by the state legislature in its next session.
Nullification, of course, is completely unconstitutional; the question is if any body in the Texas legislature cares.
Finally, just a couple of weeks ago we have a bill signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snidely-Whiplash creating a drug-testing program for adult welfare recipients on the basis of "protecting the children." Recipients and applicants suspected of drug use will be required to take a substance abuse test. Refusal to take the test will result in losing benefits for six months.
This despite the fact that the experience of other states with such programs has branded them a financial disaster that found the levels of drug use among the poor are below those of the population as a whole.
These actions may seem different, but they are linked in their ultimate intent, an intent that has become the hallmark of the right wing. That hallmark is the driving force behind proposals such as these, with their transparent intent to throw people off assistance programs under the guise of somehow doing them a favor.
That driving force is the desire, the determination, to find ways to not care about other people. To justify not even a cold but a bland, emotionless, indifference to the needs and welfare of others. To make those in need not even ill-considered but unconsidered.
And no, it hasn't "always been this way." Because while what's happening here is not new, it is relatively recent. This is not merely greed or "cut my taxes" or "small government" or even bigotry. It goes beyond those to a rejection of a basic concept of society and its functions, to a worldview. It's not even hatred of government per se; it's a hatred of the concept of government as a means for society to act as a whole, a hatred of the idea of "We, the People," a hatred most all of the commonweal.
It used to be that the rich, the powerful, the elite, would temper their despising of those in need with a little noblesse oblige. Now, increasingly, they want to be freed of even that as they express a new social version of the banality of evil.
And that surely is an outrage.
Sources cited in links: