Saturday, June 11, 2011

Abortions for the Underserving, Debt Because of Them

Amanda Marcotte's definitely headed in the right direction as she points out how the deficit has become part of the culture war along side abortion issues. Money quote:
The right wing story is basically that this country is going to hell because people have abandoned traditional values, and now they're fucking in the streets and that the hard-working white man has to pay for all this bad behavior with his tax dollars.
I might even make the case that the connection between the two doesn't need to be quite so direct for the abortion and debt issues to wind up next to each other. The populist story in general is that there are two kinds of people, The Deserving ("us") and The Undeserving ("them"), and that today The System Is Rigged and only we, the The Populist Savior, can make sure that you, virtuous members of The Deserving, can stop the lazy folks in The Undeserving from taking advantage of you. You can plug in any almost any proper nouns to this story and it still works. The main strain of Left-wing populism tends to identify The Undeserving as bankers and large businesses, who are engaging in unfair business practices, labor practices, and insider trading to enrich themselves without actually doing any hard work. Right-wing populism has many strains, but again they tend to keep the common theme that various "others"—overpaid union workers on contract, shiftless welfare recipients, illegal immigrants jumping an imaginary line, etc., academics who want to make energy watching wind turbines spin instead of working the oil fields or the coal mines—aren't working as hard as you and yet they're still getting a good deal. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums this up as the idea that "Somewhere, Someone Black is Getting Away With Something", but really any perceived Democratic interest group will work in a pinch.

So how does right-wing populism manage to make deficits a culture ware issue? Because deficit spending is about who is virtuous and who isn't. And claiming to want low levels of spending, especially on social programs, is a sign of virtue, with the added benefit that it prevents your hard-earned tax dollars from going to The Undeserving (defense spending sends your tax dollars to The Deserving, naturally). You can see the echoes of the virtuous nature of "fiscal conservatism" all over our discourse. During the 2008 debates, Obama attacked McCain's hypocrisy on fiscal issues by referring to the Bush years as an "orgy of spending". "Fiscal profligacy" is the preferred pejorative for deficit spending, and it would surprise me if Frank Luntz told House members to start referring to "fiscal promiscuity". Even the basic "government must tighten its belt the way any household would when the family budget hits hard times" fits into this frame; after all, he's talking about well-run families like yours, not those lazy households who don't bother with this sort of stuff, right? And so we just end up pitting the virtuous against The Undeserving, whether the subject matter is abortion or debt or labor laws or the Pigford settlement or NPR or whatever it is we're supposed to be angry about today.

[1] Last weekend I went to a cousin-in-law's wedding in Spartanburg, South Carolina, population roughly 39,000. I didn't find an Applebee's, but there was a yoga studio and a Thai restaurant in the part of town where we walked around.
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