On Thursday, Sweet Bill from Portland Maine, in one of his Cheers and Jeers diaries, performed one of the multitude of his dazzling public services by quoting the late, great, terribly missed Molly Ivins from 1998:
“In one totally berserker speech, House Speaker Newt Gingrich actually claimed poor people were "coaching" their children to 'act crazy' so they could obtain 'crazy money' and then beating the children if they didn’t get it. There is no evidence whatever for this insane charge. Try to get a three-year-old to fake cerebral palsy sometime. Gingrich actually implied that Congress was justified in cutting SSI [Supplemental Security Income] as a way of ending child abuse.”
This got me to thinking (always dangerous, I know). One of the persistent themes of the right-wing (for the past sixteen years at least, based upon the age of the above quote) is that SSI or Welfare or food stamps just must, must be cut because of fraud. I can only conclude, WTF?!?! See below the fold.
Let’s set aside the fact that most right-wingers believe there is fraud in safety-net programs because their landscape architect’s foreman employs a guy whose brother-in-law’s girlfriend knows a high school friend who heard from her son via a co-worker of a woman who used her food stamp allotment to buy caviar and an Escalade and refuse to look at the actual, verifiable studies that show fraud in social safety net programs is much less frequent and of an infinitesimally smaller magnitude than offshore tax dodging by the wealthy. What still doesn’t make sense is why the reaction to fraud is to cut the program.
Suppose we decide as a society that running red lights is very dangerous. And then suppose that, in order to combat the problem, we decide that we will cut the number of eligible drivers by 50 percent. Now, in terms of reducing the actual numbers of drivers who run red lights, this would lessen the occurrence of the unwanted behavior. The problem is that it doesn’t actually address the issue of scofflaw drivers. Even with the number of drivers lessened by half, there will still be some who run red lights and endanger other drivers and their passengers.
Also, imagine how well this “solution” would be received by vast majority of the 50 percent of drivers who hadn’t run red lights. There would be an outcry across the land: “How dare my ability to drive be taken away based upon someone else’s bad behavior!”
When conservatives use fraud as a rationale to cut social safety net programs that is exactly what they are doing. Punishing people who qualify for the aid because a few other people are abusing the system. It’s not only ridiculously unfair, it doesn’t address the problem. If fraud is an issue, you don’t reduce the beneficiaries, you beef up enforcement. You rout out those who are cheating so the dollars go to worthy recipients. You don’t make across the board cuts that punish the worthy and unworthy alike. Why no one has challenged the right wing on this is beyond me. Except for the fact that our society greatly prefers shaming the poor to actually helping them.