Last weekend, just before the election, Sara Robinson posted the following chart in a diary at Campaign for America's Future, "The Myth of the Self-Made American: Why Progressives Get No Respect". It's from a 2008 study reported in a recently published paper, "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era", by Suzanne Mettler. "The submerged state" refers to tax subsidies and expenditures that work "automatically," as it were, without a visible bureaucrary to administer them. I'll have more to say on this during the week, but for now, just let the following sink in, first the intro of Sara's diary, then the chart:
One of the biggest problems facing the Democrats going into this election is that they're getting absolutely zero respect for everything they've done for the average American over the past two years. Tax cuts, health care reform, financial reform, expanded veterans' benefits, direct funding of student loans -- the list is long, and one that, by rights, should get the Democrats re-elected handily.
The problem is that the average voter has no idea that any of this ever happened. In fact, if you ask most Americans (even a lot of Democrats), they'll tell you that Obama raised their taxes.
This ignorance is on full display at your average Tea Party gathering, which is full of people who will proudly insist that they're entirely self-made. "I did it all myself," they'll snarl, quivering in spittle-flecked outrage. "I didn't get any government handouts. Nobody ever did anything for me -- so why are all my tax dollars going to support those shiftless welfare cheats who aren't willing to work like I did?"
Suzanne Mettler, a professor at Cornell, actually documented this effect in a 2008 study. She asked people who'd been the beneficiaries of 19 specific government programs -- including some of the most popular and widespread programs in the country -- whether or not they'd ever used a government social program. Here's what she found:
Those are some pretty astonishing levels of denial. This is the fully-fleshed-out version of "keep the government's hands off my Medicare!" And it's a big problem, particularly given that the narratives of conservative identity reinforce the denial displayed in the chart above. So merely bringing the facts to light is not likely to have much of a positive impact in the rough and tumble of today's fantasy-based political world--although it can in a controlled experimental setting.
This is also the reality-based flip side of the perennial Republican quest for the golden mountain of "waste, fraud and abuse" they've spent the last 30 years searching for in vain in federal, state and local budgets. Well, after 30 years, you'd think they might finally realize there is no such mountaint... except, of course, for the obscenely high tax deductions for affluent & especially obscenely rich taxpayers.