Blowing an Opportunity to Provide a Way Out for the Working Poor—Instead of Shaming Them

How conservatives misplayed the CBO Report

Can they reclaim the ground they so easily gave up?

Message from a ‘moderate’

Ron Fournier, writing in National Journal (A Brutal Translation of the ‘Disincentive to Work’), set off a firestorm a couple days ago with these words:

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf, speaking in bureaucratic-ese, told Congress that Obamacare “creates a disincentive for people to work.”

Cue the outrage. Republicans initially twisted the analysis to suggest that Obamacare would throw 2 million people out of work. Quickly proven wrong, they shifted their attack. They warned that millions of lazy, unmotivated Americans would take advantage of the law to live on the government dole.

The GOP argument takes a dim view of Americans. It assumes that the only reason millions of people work is for company health care insurance—that there is no inner drive to ascend economically and socially. Give me a government check and to hell with the American Dream.

That may be true for some Americans, but certainly not for most. The GOP argument has more than a whiff of Reagan-era racial “welfare queen” politics.

Jack and Kate in net 2Fournier, a seasoned journalist—and a real gentleman—consistently positions himself as a moderate: “Just calling them as I see them. You can disagree. I may be wrong. But I’m neither an ideologue or partisan, thank you.”

But he’s a progressive who happens to hear racist dog whistles that go right past any real racists who might be lurking.

Mollie’s takedown

In her takedown of Fournier’s “more than a whiff” claim (Reading Is Hard. Calling People Racists On Twitter, Though, Is Easy), Mollie Hemingway perfectly captures the reality of Fournier’s perspective:

Fournier seeks to cultivate a “pox on both your houses” image of someone who hits both Republicans and Democrats. In an environment of nearly complete media fealty to Team Obama, this is noteworthy. But Fournier critiques Obama and his team for their inept handling of situations. He critiques with regret and sadness and in a spirit of how he wishes Obama could just stop being incompetent. On the other hand, Fournier lambasts conservatives for their ideology, which he views as evil. These are in no way equivalent critiques and only speak all the more to the bias that pervades our media.


I’m not here to criticize Fournier, but to emulate him—just…from the other direction.

Paraphrasing Hemingway:

I am critiquing conservatives with regret and sadness in a spirit of how I wish we would just stop being incompetent.

And I’m lambasting liberals for their ideology, which I view as evil.

Most of what I’ve read in conservative articles and seen from conservatives on Twitter, focuses—as Hemingway does in her Fournier takedown—on the tendency of our various safety net “solutions” to subsidize bad behavior by the poor.

I really don’t disagree with any of that.

But really. If you didn’t already agree with the sentiment, wouldn’t that have “more than just a whiff” of self-servingness to it?

And I don’t disagree with this quote from Paul Ryan either (CNNMoney: Romney-Ryan would aim to overhaul Medicaid):

We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.

But look at what’s left out of both of these messages: Concern for people actually trapped in our safety net system.

Not because they’re lazy.

Not because we’re taking money from some (more deserving) people to subsidize (less deserving) others.

But because they’re trapped.

The safety net’s not a hammock to these people.

It’s no longer working as a safety net to them.

They’ve got their feet tangled up in it and now they’re trapped.

Is what we’re doing—or proposing—helping them or hurting them as they try to improve their lives incrementally?

Why is this so hard?

There’s a real opportunity for common ground here, if we don’t let demagoguery snatch it away from us:

Which Position is Most Insulting to the Working Poor?

In my own response to Fournier I described my personal experience with getting trapped in that net.

Here’s how I summarized it:

If you are in a position never to have experienced a measure of economic self-sufficiency, where are you going to get the confidence to break out of prison and do something, even go backwards if necessary?

In the name of compassion progressives have put forward a Rube Goldberg contraption that is threatening to trap millions of people ever deeper in poverty.

Simply because it’s the Holy Grail of 20th Century American progressivism.

And, by God, they’re not going to let baked-in-the-cake failure stop them.

No matter how many people get hurt in the process.

Why did we pick this one?

Here’s where Fournier and I—and by extension, many progressives and conservatives—can find genuine common ground. Fournier again:

These people need a health insurance system that follows them from job to grinding job—that gives them flexibility to seek retraining and, for a lucky few, a new career path geared to the high-tech economy.

From my own experience in the net, I have come to question just how much progressives really care about the working poor. The best I can say for them is they simply have no clue what they’re doing to potentially millions of good people whose lives their “solutions” are ruining.

So my question for Fournier and other honorable progressives:

Of all the solutions to the need for separating employment from healthcare, why did we pick this one?

And for my fellow conservatives:

Of all the critiques of Obamacare’s impact on the safety net, why the focus on the one that only speaks to us and not the one that everybody else in the country can understand—and even agree with?

We could really help our cause if we quit talking about freeloaders and started talking about people trapped in poverty because of the very system supposedly designed to keep them out of ruin.


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