Monday, January 25, 2010

Ample Food Supply

Last week, the Yellow Blog explored the difference between clownery and evil. Unlike a majority of the blogosphere to my left, I end up coming down on the side "defending" the "evil" of David Brooks' terribly worded oversimplification of US International Aid policy.

When you write specifically to generate pageviews from conservatives reinforcing their world view or liberals who are outraged, there are just certain turns of phrase you have to use. While I usually get caught up on such wording, I was able to look past Brooks' verbiage because I've read "The Central Liberal Truth" (to a great gnashing of teeth), at the behest of recognized experts on international aid. I knew from whence his "evil" ideas came.

All of this is just build up, however, to a comparison of my own.

Today, I ran across a few turns of phrase I consider far more outrageous. Strange enough, they deal with issues tangentially related to what Brooks was discussing. In a cognitive sense, these kinds of words, having been spoken over and over again throughout the course of our nation's history, lay the foundation upon which the suspicion of Brooks' words are laid.

This is not a "Modest Proposal" type farce, either, this is literally what "conservative" Republican and South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer thinks is an appropriate government policy that he will engage in should he be elected governor of the Palmetto State.

You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

One is forced to wonder who makes up the group of "they" of which Bauer speaks.

And, like Bookman says, if you don't believe this "starve the poor people" line of thinking was viewed in the appropriate context, go ahead and hear it from the horse's mouth.

While he drapes his rhetoric in the veil of "political correctness is killing our country" and the "big government vs small government" false choice, his ideas that free and reduced school lunches might be some ancillary cause of low student test scores is mind-boggling in its departure from reality.

Brooks's contentions were based in real sociological studies, peer reviewed academic reports and address specific grievances with American policy that is not measuring up to standards of success.

Bauer's main line of thinking is based in revisionist history, American mythology, right-wing narrative, anti-government screed, top-down class warfare and other oft-used cliches. His use of loaded phrases and comparing people to animals tiptoes upon the line where allegations of another insidious belief system come to mind. But I'm not one to truck in code words, and overused allegations of "bygone" eras are unecessary bases for my critique.

His own words are already so damning that he has already engaged in a seldom seen political tactic, the public pseudo-apology-slash-I-only-used-a-bad-metaphor-story.

But he'll be OK. It sounds like South Carolina Democrats and fellow Republicans are going to let him get away with it, by engaging in the political theatre that usually follows such a comment.



Maitri said...

You know, Massachusetts Senator-Elect Scott Brown's family was on welfare when he was a child. If we cannot do that much to help our fellow Americans get back on their feet, we are lost as a nation. Yet, there are some who stay hooked on the system due to the lack of other social and vocational options.

Conservatives like Bauer are repelled by birth control and a woman's right to control her future, welfare AND programs that will help poor Americans get out of their dependent rut. This is a very dangerous trifecta of thought, one conservatives brought on themselves. "I don't want you to do X, but I will not help you stop doing X, either. I will keep you down and blame you for staying down."

What's the answer?

Dante said...

I don't think this is as open-and-shut a case as either Brooks or Bookman believe. Bookman makes some good arguments but ignores a lot. For starters, there was the 1992 Family Cap instituted in New Jersey. The idea was that you stop paying additional benefits to mothers already on welfare who have additional children and the birth rate will go down. It did go down.

Bookman also ignores the 1996 welfare reform which was one of the few parts of the Contract with America to actually make it to President's desk and get Clinton's signature. The TANF (created by the Welfare reform act) is largely seen as a success compared to its predecessors and its cornerstone is cutting off benefits to habitual recipients.

That doesn't mean I agree with Brooks but it does look like at some point cutting off benefits works. The larger question is why this works and what we can learn from it. Sweeping any evidence under the rug because it contradicts our worldview is dangerous even if an idea sounds barbaric at its most hyperbolic state. And for the record, I applaud Bookman for at least taking Brooks' notion seriously.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

@ Dante: Quick clarification.

Library Chronicles:Brooks::Bookman:Bauer

Bookman did not mention the Brooks article.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

As far as New Jersey and Welfare Reform are concerned, I'm just not sure how much of that was tied to "cutting off benefits."

In 1992, the crack epidemic was drawing back from its worst, crime rates were falling across the country and states like New Jersey were investing heavily in education.

Also, reforms such as these put social aid recipients in contact with more responsive counseling professionals at points where they interacted with the system.

So there were many factors at work there, many of which adressed cultural concerns.

Which is far closer to Brooks' intellectual thinking than Bauer's faux populism.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

@ Maitri: Bauer and Brooks are both looking at a certain problem and proposing "solutions."

Bauer advoctates a "cut them off" policy, without proposing any ideas of what will happen after that happens. He sees longstanding cultural problems as the fault of poor people somehow taking advantage of non-poor people.

Brooks advocates a "change the way we handle aid" policy. He looks at poverty, and does not disagree with giving aid. He thinks we have to do so in more effective ways if people are ever able to escape poverty.

To elaborate:

Individuals like Bauer mostly repeat down-home reactionism to win elections, and call it conservatism. The shocking thing about that audio is the earnestness in Bauer's words - he has gone past electioneering and into the realm of true belief.

Bauer's political mindset is one of tail-chasing, which is infuriating with its words as it is in lackluster, and historically failed, results. No one can fix a thing if they don't make an attempt to understand what is broken.

In most Western societies, the "starve the poor" policy was consigned to the dustbin of history after the long and hard lessons of the 18th, 19th and the 20th Centuries before about 1945.

"Starving the poor" that Bauer echos is an extension of the "progress-resistant" cultural traits to which David Brooks alludes.

Dante said...

"As far as New Jersey and Welfare Reform are concerned, I'm just not sure how much of that was tied to "cutting off benefits.""

So do "real sociological studies" and
"peer reviewed academic reports" only count when you like the results? The CLASP paper I liked to (a summary and further questions regarding the Rutger's peer-reviewed study which I'm still looking for the full text of if anyone can find a link) cites most of your concerns. And yes they could have varying effects but if you read the numbers published here, it would require those factors to suddenly become much more pronounced than they were already to account for the birth rate decline immediately after the Family Cap was put in place.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I didn't think I disagreed with the study you posted, since they also appeared unclear about how much cutting of benefits actually reduced the birthrate.

I would not argue that it does not affect it, but I will take exception about how much the birthrate is affected. Which seems right in line with the study's findings.

They took a great deal of care warning about their own numbers and other factors. Now, where are the studies examining those other factors?

Why was the birth rate declining prior to the law?

How much of a factor does confusion about benefits play (since it heavily affected the control and experimental groups)?

Finally, I would love to see certain South Carolina Republicans use this study, which links cutting off welfare benefits with an increase in artificial pregnancy terminations. I would love to see them reconcile one of their policy beliefs with another.