One would think after former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's infamous and inept "47 percent" comment, we would be done, finished, over, caput with the boorishly classic debate of "the haves versus the have-nots." One would be wrong.
This morning on "Morning Joe," my MSNBC colleague Mika Brzezinski covered a story where Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston has proposed that any student on subsidized lunch should have to sweep his or her school floors to eat. That's right, eat. He wants to swap food for work, for children. I suppose his theory is that poor kids don't have a work ethic. I also suppose his theory is that wealthy kids have a work ethic. If Kingston thinks this is true, then he's an idiot. Yes, an idiot. Oh and Kingston is running for the U.S. Senate. Just what the Senate needs: another "thinker."
Last week, Beth Reinhard penned a great cover story piece in National Journal, an article I just had to read and re-read again: "The Return of the Welfare Queen." The cover comes replete with a caricature of a woman in a convertible (with an Obama-Biden '12 bumper sticker) full of kids and a Whole Foods bag and the story dives deep into who actually gets welfare versus the conventional wisdom.
Reinhard goes a long way toward dispelling the myth that blacks and specifically black Democrats are the largest recipients of "welfare." According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whites are the largest recipients of food stamps and "45 percent of beneficiaries are children." Yes Congressman Kingston, those children you think belong in Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," – it's not their fault.
What's more enlightening in Reinhard's piece is that many of those "takers" are conservatives. Take her case study of Terry Rupe, a 63-year old Kentuckian who's never voted for a Democrat and has no use "for the federal government." Reinhard interviewed Rupe while he was signing up for Medicaid. Yep, that's right, the man who thinks the federal government "has never done anything for me" has suckled himself onto the mother's milk of the taxpayer. What's worse, Rupe thinks illegal immigrants from Mexico and Africa are the majority recipients of welfare. Sounds like Mr. Rupe is just as ignorant as Congressman Kingston.
Rupe isn't a one-off. Reinhard gives us case after case of this type of willful ignorance. What's so gross about this debate is the short-sightedness of the Republican Party. Look at the map of the United States in Reinhard's piece. Which states get the most "welfare"? Oh, that would be Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Illinois and California. Mitt Romney won all but the last four of those other "taker" states.
When I was a Senate staffer, this debate raged on the Senate floor. I spent countless hours writing talking points for my boss, gleaning over thousands of pages of income data from the Census Bureau, from think tanks both conservative and liberal. I listened to countless phone calls from constituents on both sides of the issue. I literally read thousands of constituent letters echoing those sentiments.
Bottom line: while this isn't a new debate, I seriously thought we had cast this tired meme to the sidelines of politics. But someone has put this rotten player back into the game of politics. Kingston, fellow Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas (who frets that food stamp recipients buy king crab legs), and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (who thinks Obamacare will cause people to work less or live out of wedlock in order to qualify for subsidies) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (who dismisses any Obamacare success as people signing up for "free" health care – that's not true for most people, by the way, only the indigent; but worse, McConnell's been in the Senate since before Moses was born and he's never done anything to address health care reform).
This list is long and the message is coordinated. I smell a rat here and it stinks.