I’m sure there really are Republicans in Congress who don’t like voting for budget cuts. They shake their heads, grit their teeth, and force themselves to do it anyway for a variety of reasons.
Some of them do it for what they think are sound economic reasons. Others have reasonable political reservations. Increased federal spending does increase federal power and expand bureaucracies up and down the line. Many do it because they have moral objections to government spending that are practically religious in being articles of faith they accept without question as if they learned them in Sunday School, which some of them did.
Their moral objections may be informed by their political and economic ideas, although I think it more usually works the other way, with their religious convictions muddling their political and economic thinking, but this last group, which includes lots of Republicans from the first two, votes for cuts to programs they understand might be worthwhile in the abstract but which they believe in practice harm the people they’re meant to help by undermining their moral characters.
They vote in ways liberals see as heartless shreddings of the safety net and deliberate sabotaging of the economy with the same regrets as well-meaning parents telling children they can’t have a second helping of desert or they can’t go to a party because they have chores to do. They do it, even though they’d just as soon make the kids happy, because it’s their job to build character.
They see themselves as teaching lessons in self-reliance, impulse control, delayed gratification, and priorities to the entire nation.
Well, to that part of the nation that needs those lessons. You know, them.
It happens that their economic reasons aren’t sound, their political objections aren’t reasonable, and the morals they wish to instill are actually corrosive, morally, spiritually, and socially and do far more harm to individuals and the nation than good.
For every one of them who learns to stand on their own two feet, there are ten who are just knocked flat in their tracks and wind up spending all their time and energy trying to crawl out of the way of oncoming trains while dragging sick and hungry children with them.
In short, these Republicans are being dumb because their political, economic, or moral principles are based on assumptions and prejudices that have no basis in reality.
The facts, the numbers, the history, and the science just aren’t there to back them up.
It’s pious make-believe.
But never mind. My point stands. Whichever group they belong to, the Republicans I’m talking about, who are not the majority in Congress---the majority loves to cut spending---do not like to vote for budget cuts. They do it with a sigh and even with spasms of pain because it’s the right thing to do.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has probably run its course, having reached the stage where it’s bordering on self-parody. It’s done good while it’s lasted---and see Tom Watson on the carpers and self-righteous wet blankets or, in this case, resolutely dry blankets---and I hope it lasts a while longer to do even more good. But more and more we’re just getting celebrity self-promotion and a lot of moral grandstanding. You always know things have crossed a line when politicians start joining in.
A flash flood of outrage coursed through my Twitter stream the other day when someone noticed that many of the Republican Congresscritters who took the Ice Bucket Challenge had voted to cut federal funding for ALS research and treatment and then, as too often happens on Twitter, people began retweeting this “news” without bothering to look into it. “Hypocrites!” went the general hue and tweet.
Things died down quickly but not, as far as I could tell, because anyone had done any follow-up googling.
The outrage machine had simply switched gears.
Can you tell I have some issues with Twitter?
I’m still trying to figure out how to explain this to my students who are going to be required to use Twitter this fall.
These Republicans were assumed to be hypocrites, which, when you’re talking (or tweeting) about Republicans is a fair assumption. One of them was Paul Ryan and he’s the walking definition of hypocrisy.
Tell us again how you got rich working that Weinermobile, Congressman.
It turns out, inconveniently for us self-righteous liberals, that a bunch of Democrats who took the challenge voted along with those Republicans to cut that funding.
Well, here’s the thing.
They, the Democrats and those Republicans, didn’t vote to cut funding for ALS research. Not specifically and, probably, in the case of several of them, not knowingly. They voted for a budget deal that prevented default and a government shutdown by giving the Republican hostage-takers what John Boehner crowed was 98 percent of what he wanted in terms of arbitrary, across the board budget cuts and implementing the sequester, and the agencies that oversee and administer some medical research programs got whacked along with everybody else.
(Editor’s note: See the links at the bottom of this post.)
Some of that funding has been restored, by the way. The sequester, however, is still unconscionably in effect.
The Democrats would rather not have had to do it. I would bet that all the Republicans were glad to, except the ones who wanted deeper cuts or were looking forward to a shutdown. The crazies who thought default would be a good thing didn’t vote for the deal.
Now, here’s the other thing.
Even if they had voted to cut ALS research, specifically and knowingly, taking the Ice Bucket Challenge wouldn’t necessarily have made them hypocrites.
Funding medical research and the treatment of illnesses and diseases is a charitable endeavor, and whatever mix of economic, political, and moral objections to federal spending individual conservatives have, they all tend to agree as an article of that government shouldn’t do the work best left to private agencies.
Their argument goes something like this:
Private agencies are more efficient at delivering aid because it’s their job to be, as opposed to the job of government agencies which is simply to extend government power and give work to the otherwise unemployable. (This is the old Have you been to the DMV lately? argument and it assumes nobody competent wants a government job.) Private agencies are usually local or locally focused and therefore they know the needs of the localities they serve better than the government way of in Washington. (Debatable, but there’s good evidence on the local side. It’s not quite the DMV argument rephrased, but we’ve all had to deal with government bureaucrats following rules handed down from above that serve the interests of the higher-ups back in the home office but make no sense applied to matters right here and now.) And, if the money stops coming in from the government, more money will actually make its way to where its needed, because, one, with their tax bills lowered, people will have more money left in the wallets that they’ll give to charity (Right, because the mechanic will fix the car for free and the kids can go without new shoes for another couple of months.); two, people will be more willing to donate when they know the money is going to help people they might regard as their neighbors; and, three, people can’t let themselves off the hook by telling themselves they don’t have to worry about those in need, the government is taking care of the problem.
By the way, somewhere in that last bit of tangled logic there is a point to be considered.
Scrooge absolves himself from having to care about the plight of the poor and unfortunate by pointing out that he pays taxes that go towards funding the early Victorian version of a safety net. In that narrow, very narrow, way he can be seen as a good liberal for his time. Never mind. It’s a very real temptation that people give into all the time under all kinds of circumstances, because we’re all human, which is to say, basically weak, lazy, and selfish, to tell ourselves we don’t have to do something because it’s somebody else’s job.
Of course, the right thing to do is to pay your taxes, vote to support, reinforce, and expand the safety net and give willingly and freely to charity.
Still. there’s no hypocrisy in voting against government funding of charities as long as you also then give to charity straight out of your own pocket.
You’re just wrong in thinking you’re doing more real good by it.
But the debate these days isn’t really over whether or not the work is best done by private charities, because there is no debate. The answer is no. Without getting too deep into it, simply start with the problems of administering and distributing the needed help (material, monetary, and in kind) on the scale necessary to get it to everyone who needs it. Then there’s the problem of allocation. If we’re all putting five dollars into the same pot, that pot better be a very big one and it’s going to get full very fast. But it doesn’t all go into the same pot. There are thousands of pots to fill. And some of those pots are here, and the money is meant to be spent here. And some of those pots are over there, and that money is meant to spent over there. And the fact is not all of us can’t afford to put five dollars into even one pot, while some of us can afford to put five-hundred dollars into each of a hundred pots. And if the people who can barely manage to scrape together the five bucks are concentrated here and the people who won’t even miss five-hundred are concentrated over there, then the people who need help here aren’t going to get as much help as the people in need over there. In fact, the people in need here will get much less than they need, while the people in need over there will get much more.
But life’s unfair, right?
Yes, it is. And it’s our job to fix that.
It’s why we’re here.
As it happens, there are far more places like here than there are places like over there.
You can believe that charity is work best done by local and private agencies like churches, but you have to be willfully ignorant not to know that very few churches can afford to pay for even one parishioner’s hip replacement let alone hip replacements for the ten who might need them.
And answer me this. How many strangers’ families are you feeding these days? How many strangers’ kids are you putting through school? How many strangers’ elderly parents’ medical bills are you paying?
The answer is…a lot. That’s what you pay taxes for. You’re putting the money into one giant pot along with the rest of us.
But say there’s a lid put on that government pot. Then what? How many strangers will you feed, educate, and help heal out of your own pocket?
If your answer is None, I can’t afford it, that’s my point. Few of us can…on our own.
So, again, like I’ve been saying, you’re not a hypocrite if you vote to cut government spending on “charity” and then take the Ice Bucket Challenge. You’re just wrong if you think it’s the better thing to do.
But there you go.
Here’s yet one more thing. The last thing for this post.
Whatever the thinking behind these particular Republicans’ votes, as a group Congressional Republicans have made it clear they really don’t care if people in need get any help at all, from the feds, from private philanthropists, from local churches, from any source you can name.
And it’s more than their thinking it’s better for the poor and unfortunate to go it alone or go without because it will make them better persons, more productive citizens, and more fit candidates for heaven.
They think the poor and unfortunate deserve to be left to suffer.
They think they should be punished for being poor and unfortunate.
They think it’s their duty and responsibility to do the punishing.
They take a delight in inflicting it.
It makes them feel righteous and morally and socially superior.
It gives them a thrill.
If they’re also hypocrites, hypocrisy is their lesser sin.
What they are above all is a pack of sadists.
I’ll come back later and put the links in, but it’s Sunday morning and I’m feeling lazy (Where are the conservatives to help me build character?), so here are a couple of articles that go along with this post:
At Huffington Post: Lawmakers Who Cut Funds For ALS Research Take Ice Bucket Challenge For ALS Research by Sam Stein.
And please make a point of reading Tom Watson’s post at Forbes.com, Hey Cynics, Hold That Cold Water: Why The Ice Bucket Challenge Worked.