Assault on the Disabled
Just when I think they couldn’t possibly reach further depths of moral turpitude, the Republicans manage to lower the bar yet again. On Jan. 6th, opening day of the new 114th Congress, the Senate passed a bill to approve the Keystone pipeline (a function of the State Department). Over in the House, the first thing they did was throw eleven million disabled people under the bus. About a dozen times since 1950, Congress has passed a routine bill allowing the Social Security Administration to shift funds from the retirement fund to the disability fund, when necessary (I guess having the SSA shift their own funds made too much sense). But this time a little provision was slipped into the House rules late the night before, in typical greasy fashion. Those funds can’t be shifted over anymore, without corresponding cuts in other areas (like Social Security benefits). Keep in mind that the Senate has no say in this, as these are the House rules.
What it means is that sometime next year the disability fund will be depleted to the extent that people will get up to a 20% cut in benefits. Could you deal with a 20% cut in your income, because I know I couldn’t. The guy behind this chicanery is Sam Johnson (R-TX), who justified it by saying that shifting these funds constituted a raid on retirees’ benefits. What it really amounts to, though, is the opening cannon shot to break the Social Security system so they can “fix” it, meaning privatizing it, handing it over to Wall Street. There’s $2.8 trillion in that Social Security trust, and these guys are drooling at the thought of getting their talons on it.
All that aside, what kind of monsters could take money from disabled people? I know conservatives are known for their bullying behavior, but come on! Disabled people? Don’t they have enough pain to deal with already? These people on the far right all identify as Christians, don’t they? I think that fella they named their religion for had a radically different philosophy about the disabled, as he did the poor and disadvantaged. In fact, I seem to remember his saying that as ye do to the least of these, ye do to me. Christians, here’s your chance to evangelize to these uncircumsized Phillistines who have hijacked your faith, by giving them the good news that there is a New Testament. I don’t believe they’ve heard of it.
Why would they do this? Because those disabled people are faking it, to get free money from the government. No, they really believe this! The usual number they throw around is half, and you’ll hear it on Fox, or any right-wing radio station. I heard it again the other day, in fact. On Jan. 14th Kentucky Senator and probable presidential candidate Rand Paul was in Massachusetts, where he said: “Over half the people on disability are anxious or have back pain. Welcome to the club.” God forbid that o conservative would have an original thought. At least they’re consistent, and there’s a reason for that. They’re authoritarian-types. They believe society is best served by strong leaders in regimented top-down structures. Before I get to the sources of this theology, I have a cautionary message to all you disabled people out there, walking with canes and seeing-eye dogs, pushing your walkers at a glacial pace, or bent over so severely it looks like you’re scanning the sidewalk for loose change — watch out, the Republicans are on to you.
The reason conservatives demonize the poor, disabled, or minorities, not to mention women and gays, is that they are immoral. No, not conservatives, those “others.” It’s a part of their world view that basically people are rotten and corrupt, and the purpose for governments is to control them (contrast that with the liberal view, that people are basically good, and that government is to protect us from the predations of the rich, and allow us to realize our potential). They truly believe that if the government provides social safety nets it will encourage people to stop working and sit on their asses. Of course there are those who scam the system, a very small percentage. But to the conservative, it’s better to dismantle a program that helps millions, than to let just one guy scam a free lunch.
What’s the genesis, if you will, of conservative thought? Most scholars will place Edmund Burke (1729-1797) as the progenitor, although his ideas look pretty progressive to me compared to the modern Right. I believe it goes back much further, to Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the English philosopher and author of Leviathan. Hobbes had a very low opinion of the human race. He thought we were pretty much savages, incapable of governing ourselves, that without the firm hand of church or state, existence would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” The authoritarian mindset starts there, I think. Well, then, who gets to rule? If it’s the church, that’s a theocracy, like we see in Iran or Saudi Arabia, or here in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1700s. If the state rules, you generally have a monarchy of some kind, though not always. At any rate, strange concepts like democracy or critical thinking would be discouraged in this system. Get in line and do what you’re told. Whether a monarchy or not, how can one know who would make the best leaders? And that’s where we encounter the gospel of prosperity.
We see it all the time today in the big mega churches and televangelists. I remember Robert Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and all the rest. Send us money and God will bless you tenfold (it’s also known as shearing the sheep, but that’s another story). The idea is that if you’re virtuous, God will bless you with wealth. It’s okay to be rich, it means God loves you more. This goes back to a 16th Century zealot named John Calvin (1509-1564). He was a French theologian and reformer (you know how much conservatives like reform). The Calvinists thought they’d figured out how to tell who the virtuous men were; they’re the ones God has blessed with wealth. The Lord has smiled upon him and rewarded his virtue. But then the opposite must also be true — the poor are unworthy. Not only are they unworthy, they are by extension immoral. And there you go, it’s just that simple.
Calvinism runs not only through the bloodstreams of conservatives, but permeates our social structure right down to the linguistic level. We may describe a tapestry as being rich in detail, or some area of scientific research yielding a wealth of data, both usages having positive meanings. But when we speak of something being of poor quality, or feel sorry for poor Aunt Hattie with her arthritis, those are negative connotations. See? It’s even part of our language and we don’t even think about it. Rich good, poor bad! I think it registers at some level, because I know that language truly does shape thought — it’s called advertising.
It all began, in my opinion, with John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. And I’ll bet you never thought of Calvin and Hobbes like that before, did you?