Point of View Columns

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

At the beginning of this month we were all witness to a shameful illustration of ideological fantasy transformed into institutional cruelty. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was forced to reduce food stamp benefits for tens of millions of American men, women and children in the name of austerity and fiscal probity. What was really happening is that the mean-spirited worst aspects of the right wing of the right wing were implemented in real time leaving American men, women and children to suffer.

Part of the fantasy of the right wing of the right wing of the Teapublican Party is that this country is based on principles of total self-reliance and that it has been by the sheer will of the individual that all progress has taken place in this country, indeed on this planet. That this patently untrue is obvious to even the casual student of the history of this country.

From the implementation of a national postal system to the construction of the Erie Canal to the establishment of a transcontinental railroad, major progress has taken place in this country only through collective engagement and governmental support. The public health system, the public education system and government support of and participation in scientific research in multiple fields have established a societal platform that has supported unprecedented industrial and commercial success in these United States.

There have been men and women who have been highly successful in their use and exploitation of this platform. But to quote President Obama, “…they didn’t build that.” The American people have built that platform over the course of more than two centuries and it is undeniable that the millionaires and billionaires who reside in America (even if their money doesn’t) cannot even imagine a more suitable place in the world where they could create and amass the fortunes that they possess.

And so it is more than odd, it is counterintuitive,  that men and women who populate the right wing of the right wing who are direct beneficiaries of government-based initiatives now wish to reduce and eliminate these beneficial initiatives for other Americans now that they and their families are comfortable and secure. Consider the example of Congressman Paul Ryan, the recently failed Teapublican Vice Presidential candidate who is considered a leading theorist in the right wing drive towards fiscal austerity and the shrinkage of government.

Paul Ryan’s family became very wealthy and comfortable in Wisconsin by building roads. What kind of roads? Public roads and highways that were funded by public funds are the key source of wealth for the Ryan family and is a major reason why Paul Ryan did not have to drop out of school and go to work when his father died (his brief stint at McDonald’s notwithstanding) and the reason why he has never had to hold a paying job in the private sector as an adult.

To make the irony even more bittersweet, Paul Ryan attended college with Social Security benefits that he received by reason of the unfortunate death of his father. The same Social Security program that he now wants to scale back and privatize, turning it into a shredded semblance of a social safety net once helped him and his family.

It should be clear that the narrative of Paul Ryan is not exceptional for its hypocrisy and crass betrayal of a system from which he has reaped enormous, life transforming benefits. Senator Rand Paul, another Teapublican avatar and faux advocate of self-reliance, had no problem reaping millions of dollars in Medicare payments while practicing medicine.

Senator Ted Cruz is another Teapublican avatar who claims that government is the enemy of the American people. But the American government wasn’t the enemy when his father immigrated to this country from Cuba. Presumably the elder Cruz could have selected some other country to pursue his hopes and dreams and to raise his family, but he chose the United States precisely because to the programs, infrastructure and societal platform that he son now seeks to destroy.

To compound his detestable and dangerous hypocrisy, Ted Cruz attended Princeton and Harvard, two institutions that have received billions of dollars of federal assistance over the years for research, scholarships and other supportive measures. Because these schools have been able to maintain a level of excellence over the years, Ted Cruz was able to reap those benefits. Again, these are now benefits that he would seek to eliminate for current and future generations of students.

And it is within this House of Hypocritical Mirrors that we see the Teapublican apostles of austerity cutting food stamp programs while they sit well-fed, well-educated and well-satisfied with the life that the governmental system has provided for them.

We are reminded of the selfish caricatures that climb up the ladder to success and then pull up the ladder so that no one can follow.

 

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