Evangelicals and the politics of spite

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.

2429217377_c703bc367e 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.

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  • Dav

    *squints* Nah.
    Thanks, though! (I can do a sideways fist, but it always comes out a little phallic. Insert your own joke here.)

  • Dav,
    That is a future I would want to live in.
    truth is life: I agree with you, in that an economy based on the finite needs of a finite number of people seems ultimately more limited than an economy based on the infinite speculation of a finite number of people.
    However, I would argue that this is a good thing.
    Our current system is based on continual growth. (I do not say constant growth, because if the growth is constant, people cry stagnation and things get stupid.) Like the oft-referenced shark, our economy is one that must move forward lest it drown.
    I don’t think this is a good thing. I am not a very business-minded person, so if there’s a glaring hole in my logic, please do point it out.
    When you are producing enough widgets, it would be reasonable to expect growth to slow down, yes? Why, then, do we have the expectation that there will NEVER be enough widgets, and that the widget-maker must continue to top their own achievements, year after year? If the widget-maker sees a slowdown in growth, why all the arm-flailing and attempts to speed it up again? Is it not possible that there are enough widgets?
    Health care, and an economy based on it, do have a finite scope. However, that scope is very large, and I think it would be large enough, without the possibility of runaway, artificial growth that causes so many problems in an economy based not on caring for the finite people who create it but rather on making itself larger by any means necessary, with no goal, no purpose beyond expansion, and no end.

  • and Dav – Solidarity! (Is there an emoticon for an upraised fist? If so, imagine one here)

    I love the graphic where the map of Wisconsin is an upraised fist.
    Also, Screw the Koch brothers. Seriously—may those 2 reap exactly what they’ve sown.

  • Lonespark

    There’s a solidarity rally at the statehouse this afternoon and I would totally go except I can’t figure out how to pick up the kids and make it there and back because of their daycare schedules. If it weren’t school vacation week my parents would be here to pick them up.

  • Andrew Glasgow


    I don’t suppose I can vote for an economy based on health care, fine food, high quality, entertaining fiction, high quality, entertaining non-fiction, a slew of awesome computer games, a commitment to basic scientific research, and a ruthless devotion to a working public transportation system?
    Because, uh, that would be good. For everyone, not just future!me. And it might mean travelling on a high speed train drinking fine wine and excellent canapes suggested by your nurse for your own good while reading about the entertaining foibles of the eradication of rinderpest.

    While going “Ciao!” no doubt?
    “What do we want?”
    Gradual, sustainable, but steady change!
    “When do we want it?”
    With all deliberate speed!

  • Andrew Glasgow


    Also, Screw the Koch brothers. Seriously—may those 2 reap exactly what they’ve sown.

    Time to drop the Koch* habit, America.
    Time for a boycott?
    *Pronounced “coke”.

  • Those bastards own Lyrca?

  • And Antron. And Polartech. D:
    But where else do I get my stretchy, fuzzy, wonderful fleece? *balls up in echidna-like despair*

  • They also own CoolMax, which just sucks. That stuff is a life-saver for summer work outs.
    I really hate those guys.

  • hapax

    Durn. I can’t boycott any of that stuff — I don’t buy it anyways.

  • No, no, hapax, say it right, you’ve been engaged in a preemptive boycott. *nods*

  • Albanaeon

    Gods, the Koch bros are everywhere… Even in my home…
    *Pronounced “coke”.
    Are you sure. I have sworn it was a very different pronunciation with a very different meaning. Somewhat like our current Majority leader in the House’s name right now.

  • PurpleGirl

    Albanaeon — Any number of people who have Germanic names don’t like how they should or have been pronounced. Yes, Ed Koch says it differently than the “Coke” brothers. John Boehner doesn’t like boner so he (or his family) changes it to a “ay” sound. But in German, oe is not “ay”. There was a skater who didn’t like Goebel, so he too changed the sound to “ay”. No pride in their native tongue, such a shame.

  • And make sure you refer to the New York State Theatre as the New York State Theatre. I mean, it won’t do anything, but…
    (Although I suppose this isn’t exclusively political. New Shea Stadium, wooo.)

  • Pentecostal Cylon: The actual legal effect of the change in the law was zero. If it had an intended effect it was probably to create a stalking horse to create “fetal personhood”
    As to rich, I ain’t. I’m pulling in 1,427 dollars a month in my disability payment (from the VA), and I make 12 an hour selling cookware. I get a stipend for going to school on the GI Bill, and when I get the VocRehab up and running (they owe me, because I have disability rating of more than 30 percent… it’s actually 80 percent, but who’s counting?), my tuition gets completely covered and my stipend is better managed.
    So I’m netting about 25,000 a year.

  • re guns: I just had this conversation elsewhere.
    I don’t want to wage it here. I am perfectly willing to have an Lj conversation (but not on my public Lj. If that is something people want.
    Caveats: I like guns. I’ve been using them for the past 39 years (I’m 44). I spent 16 years in the army. I’ve taught a lot of people how to shoot. I’ve been in a war zone. I have had people shoot at me (both before, and after I joined the Army).
    I have some strong opinions (and one of them; the one which cause me to write this is that Shotguns are so far from being what people, even “experts” think, that they are almost worse than useless in a non-military, police, or hunting situation). I am not a blanket fan of carry. Neither am I a blanket opponent of carry.

  • truth is life: (and I hope this isn’t redundant) one of the things which heathcare causes is an increase in entrepreneurial ventures. When bankruptcies decline, and people have more money (because their healthcare costs less) then can take a risk, and start a business. People who don’t start a business have more money to spend, which means more of those local shops don’t go bankrupt, etc..
    France, Germany, England, Canada, all have larger numbers, per capita, of family businesses, and more evenly spread across their countries.

  • Lee: I’ve come to the conclusion that any attempt by a government to really influence the birthrate except in the most minor way is going to require a lot of coercive power. Its why a shudder when I run into the few remaining advocates of zero population growth, they really don’t understand the level of dictatorship required to bring about zero population growth.
    Germany manages zero population growth very well, despite (because?) decades-long efforts by a long line of governments to get middle class women to get more children.
    Some years ago they have resorted to paying middle-class women for having children. (Not poor women, of course.) Effect? Zero.
    The GDR actually managed population growth by establishing that a woman’s place was in the work force.

  • Sgt. Pepper: With all this talk of the rich, here’s an interesting question: how many here consider/refer to themselves as rich?
    I often feel very rich, because I can buy everything I want. Still, realistically I’d say comfortable, with some skewage for being a one-person-household. So my household income is completely average, while my individual income is high in the second quintile.
    Which means that I can afford a middle-class lifestyle and save a few hundred Euros per month, but buying a place to live would be a big financial risk. Fortunatley I neither want nor need to own a flat.
    Still, “rich” IMO starts if I am not dependent on my income from work to live in not-poverty. Which will be, if I am consistency lucky, in about 20 years time.
    Pentecostal Cylon: Case in point being Amaranth’s friend…why in the bloody hell can’t the dude get that if the mother is in bad health the baby she’s carrying will be affected, or if the mother dies so will the baby,
    I have tried and so far failed to decide if I feel the better reaction would be “so you’d prefer [name of wife] to die while pregnant over her miscarrying” in my most “I really do not get people” voice, or just say “you are a reprehensible person” and avoid ever seeing them again…
    There was a bill someone was trying to get passed in Utah […] that would have in effect made religious freedom almost absolute if passed,
    Decriminalizing drug use, sex with minors, and human sacrifices?
    Coleslaw: Did these people not notice what was handed to them, or have they forgotten?
    I suspect they prefer to ignore it because believing in a level playing field flatters their ego.
    Just my theory.

  • Pius: His [Krugman’s] case is that a greatly-expanded health-care system would serve as this new nexus.
    But health care is service, not productive. I’m currently drawing a complete blank when I’m trying to consider the economics of this.
    Rebecca: Wha?
    Someone is new to posting to the internet in English?
    Neohippie: my fiancee works to make sure people don’t get cholera.
    They want to pay a private company not to give *them* cholera. Which has the added benefit to them that people who can’t pay will get cholera.
    Spite is too weak a word, really.
    Cary B.: My attitude towards soup kitchens has gone from “wow, thats something I like volunteering at to” to “Fuck ’em. Ain’t no one setting up a soup kitchen to help me.”
    Do I know that this is irrational and wrong? Of course. But it creeps in. When you’re poor, you’re scared.

    Which is why the right is self-perpetuating so successfully despite all liberal hope. They just need to undermine people’s security and confidence when they are in power, that will make everyone scared, and scared people are illiberal.

  • depizan: But a lot of people feel like the world is an insanely dangerous place.
    And fear is catching. I noticed that after spending a few days with my grandmother, I was starting to become fearful of people, cities, crowds (helped, no doubt, by slight pre-existing demophobia), and nervous around people not speaking my langauge.
    I made it a habit to have a few-hour stopover in the largest town on the trip back to browse some second hand bookstores and have a burger at the train station, just to re-caliber my risk detector.
    (I’m in Germany, which is so safe that my co-workers who come over from the US are baffled.)

  • (In response to: “Who’s rich here?”
    My spouse is now-former military, as of November, and has been in the hospital since then. I’m fully disabled.
    Even though she was only an E-4, I considered us to be pretty well off. We had TriCare (and a full Army Medical Center!), housing allowance, subsidized, tax-free shopping (AAFES, 2 commissaries & Navy Exchange), etc.
    My spouse was separated from the military, and now we have nothing. We haven’t been able to get any helping services, because you need income to qualify, income we don’t have because my spouse is in hospital with severe PTSD with attending psychosis, diagnosed by the military. But because she got it from rape from other soldiers, and her chain of command tried to bury it, the VA drags it’s feet to cover it (despite military doctors writing letters saying ‘please, this is real, and an emergency’).
    She’s in a group home for now. I’m losing the apartment. I already lost the car. I’ll be getting state disability soon, but that’s only $400 a month at most–they say it’s to cover shelter, clothes, and transport.
    Section 8 in my state hasn’t taken a new application in five years.
    The state tells me to go to family. I have none. So they tell me I’m on my own.