The headline is depressingly unsurprising: "Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World's Poor, Unemployed."
The combination of stupidity, selfishness and resentment for resentment's sake here is an unholy abomination that makes me want to scream and throw things. And I would, if I thought screaming and throwing things would help get through to these folks, but at this point I have no idea what would get through to them. Neither facts nor faith seem to matter to them at all.
Lest you think the above is mere name-calling, let's review again the distinction between "name-calling" and calling something by its name. Words have meanings and we should strive to use words as precisely as possible, choosing the most accurate words, the words which mean what it is that needs to be said.
To think that cutting humanitarian foreign aid will be of any consequence for balancing America's federal budget is, in fact, stupid — it betrays an ignorance or rejection of readily available facts. To prioritize cuts to such programs is, in fact, selfish. The priorities revealed in this poll also demonstrate that evangelical voters aren't really concerned about deficits per se — someone actually concerned about deficits would be obliged to learn at least the most basic facts of the federal budget — but are instead driven by the fear that somebody else somewhere else might be receiving some benefit that they are not receiving. That is resentment for resentment's sake.
It is not name-calling to point out that this poll reveals indefensibly ignoble sentiments expressing themselves in an indefensibly ignoble politics. Honesty and accuracy demand that we say this.
The zombie lie that budgets could be balanced if only we stopped giving away such generous foreign humanitarian aid is actually two lies combined. First there is the lie that America's foreign humanitarian aid is particularly generous. It's not. And second there is the lie that a reduction, or even an elimination, of this spending would have any noticeable or meaningful impact on the federal budget. The graph above shows what we are talking about — a tiny, tiny sliver of overall discretionary spending, which is itself a smallish portion of the overall budget.
Former Bush speechwriter and Wheaton College alum Michael Gerson offered a good response to the shamefully popular notion of deficit-reduction through cuts to humanitarian foreign aid:
I think what they're missing is the nature of our fiscal crisis. These cuts in discretionary spending, you know, are not the problem. You know, we don't have a deficit crisis because we spend too much money on bed nets and AIDS drugs. We have a deficit crisis because we have entitlements, and aging population, and health cost inflation.
And by pretending that you can solve our deficit problem with cuts like these, which are both irrelevant and destructive, you're actually subtracting from our seriousness on the deficit issue.
The other item identified as a top concern for these evangelical voters actually does have some relevance to America's federal deficit, at least in the short term.
The long-term budget problem — and it's only in the long term that this really constitutes a "fiscal crisis" — is all about health care costs. But in the short term our budget deficit is as large as it is because we have around 14 million American workers currently not working. Since they're not able to earn an income, they aren't paying payroll taxes or income taxes. Multiply that by 14 million and that's a huge loss of revenue. Those same 14 million are also drawing on unemployment insurance. Multiply that by 14 million and that's a huge additional expense.
This is not complicated. For every unemployed worker who goes back to work revenue increases and expenses go down. That makes putting people back to work twice as effective as an approach to deficit reduction as any approach that focuses on spending cuts alone.
In terms of our short-term budget deficits, Job No. 1 is Jobs.
This is why whenever I hear someone say, "We've got to make the tough, painful choices to balance the budget" I know that I needn't waste any more time listening to that person. He's not really interested in balancing the budget, he's interested in imagining himself as someone who is "tough." And he's so preoccupied with this need to feel "tough" that he is unwilling to do the arithmetic and see that the most urgent need when it comes to balancing the budget is not a "painful choice" but the choice to ease pain. Putting people back to work is not a painful choice. It's what those people want — what they long for, hope for and pray for. It makes people happy and actually solves the problem. And for both of those reasons, the "tough" so-called "deficit hawks" don't like the idea.
Apart from the proverbial trinity of "waste, fraud and abuse," the only expense we need to be cutting in the short term is the expense of unemployment benefits. And the only fiscally responsible way to cut that expense is also the only morally responsible way to do it: By putting the unemployed back to work.
The evangelical voters who responded to Pew's polling want to cut the expense of unemployment benefits by simply cutting off those payments. That's a reprehensible, degenerate impulse, but it's also fiscal suicide. It means giving up on the possibility of collecting revenue from 14 million workers, and on the revenue from the productivity those workers could be contributing to their employers, and on the revenue and the wealth generated by their participation in the economy. It means telling every existing business in America that you must now get by with 14 million fewer customers. It means creating a self-propagating cycle of contraction — achieving an ever-smaller federal budget by having an ever-smaller economy. That's not just cutting off your nose to spite your face, it's cutting off your head to spite your nose.
"Spite" being the operative word here. This is the politics of spite. And evangelical voters are soaking in it.