If their Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, my liberal friends reserve a special place in their hearts for New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. And it’s little wonder – taking in the latest Krugman dispatch enables the left to simultaneously indulge in two of its most treasured pastimes: shrilly accusing everyone to their right of acting in bad faith and blindly worshipping anything stamped with the Ivy League seal of approval.
Never mind that the angry invective churned out at regular intervals by the economist cum partisan attack dog seems most often to turn on ideological assertions that draw in no way upon his academic pedigree. Because the guy once wrote some really important papers about economies of scale, talking points so simplistic that even Debbie Wasserman-Schultz might think twice about spouting them are held up as gospel when they flow from his embossed pen. Reading the Times opinion page is as close as many leftists get to attending church these days, and St. Paul – a bearded mash-up of Michael Moore and Elizabeth Warren – is their favorite preacher.
The latest Krugman diatribe to spread across social media as relentlessly as Athlete’s foot in a high school locker room was his Friday column “Moochers Against Welfare,” in which the Professor expresses his complete “puzzlement” that any Americans would ever vote for the political party that doesn’t promise them bigger and bigger baskets of government goodies. He can imagine only three possible explanations for why poor people might pull the Republican lever; either the rural poor are led astray by right-wingers’ “exploitation of “social issues,” red states’ wealthiest citizens are just not decent enough to embrace the charitable liberalism espoused by their rich coastal counterparts, or – and he does not appear to be joking – they must literally be too stupid to understand how badly they need government.
In some ways, this is classic Krugman. For him, political values are not a subject in which reasonably intelligent and well-meaning people can agree: if you aren’t a liberal, you are objectively either evil or stupid, and are most likely to be both.
But there is more to this argument than run-of-the-mill Times demonization. (By the way, could nobody please mention to my grandparents that I'm a terrorist? Appreciate it.) It is actually a common liberal belief today that anyone who stands to benefit financially from a swollen safety net and votes against it must be either deluded or uninformed. But the problems with this interpretation are manifest, as are three lessons we can draw from it.
Lesson #1: Many of those communities best acquainted with welfare statism are among its most dedicated enemies.
It is truly beyond me why proponents of a centralized welfare state are so quick and so proud to point out that the communities most thoroughly transformed by the strategy of top-down handouts reject those policies as vocally as any Americans you can find. If we buy the liberal vision (the more entitlements, the better, and hurry!) then those states and towns that appear to "benefit" so disproportionately from fiscal transfers would be the last to oppose social spending – but precisely the opposite is true.
The faculty at Princeton and the editors of the Times, of course, don't bear direct witness to the ways in which utter dependency on the state acts as a cultural poison that can suck the soul out of a community. But residents of the states Krugman mocks do, and their resultant political preferences are anything but cause for celebration within the ranks of the pseudo-pragmatic redistributionists.
Lesson #2: If you love your faith more than your wallet, prepare to be gawked at.
That Krugman and the left-wing researchers he cites use language like "induce" and "exploit" to defame Republicans who care deeply about "social issues" bespeaks a baffling ignorance of the hierarchy of values to which humans the world over have adhered for centuries. Even ardently pro-abortion pundits need to recognize that, for a majority of Americans, fetal life is literally no more a "social" issue than is murder or child abuse. To their pro-life neighbors, it is an issue of transcendent importance.
Similarly, whatever one's view of gay marriage or stem cell research, to condescend to those among your countrymen who would choose a government that aligns with their most deeply held beliefs about morality and about the universe over one that offers them cash (Um, you care more about "principles" than your checking account? Whatever you say, you crazy freak!) is not only cruel but socially ignorant on a profound level.
Lesson #3: Where public policy intersects with culture, liberal confusion proves the conservatives' point in a big way.
I'm only twenty-one years old. But I think I've learned enough from studying history and speaking to my family that there was a time in this country when those who shamelessly scarfed down a handout and immediately thrust their palm out for more would have been subject to more, not less, ridicule than people who would rather surrender some degree of material well-being in exchange for keeping their pride.
For too long, the debate about how massive entitlements and cradle-to-grave dependency stifle American culture has taken place as an abstract conversation. But it is all too evident that discussion about the deleterious cultural impact of citizenship in our democratic republic morphing into an endless array of me-first transactions is no longer confined to the realm of theory.
The huge numbers of men and women who stand to directly gain from the benefits-for-votes clientelism on which the Democratic Party thrives nevertheless muster the courage to recognize that trade-off as insulting to basic values of Enlightenment individualism and human dignity and turn down the offer – they are not a symptom of sociopolitical dysfunction in America. They are anything but. Rather, dysfunction obtains in the great swaths of intelligent scholars and writers who see these people clinging desperately to some meaningful degree of individual responsibility and can only muse, "So are they crazy or just ignorant?"
Whether we're talking about Britain under Ted Heath in the early '70s or Greece under Papademos in 2012, the breakdown of social cohesion in societies that attempt to exile individualism shows us that fiscal and social policy must be about more than tinkering with equations and cutting checks. A country's soul matters – and liberal policies are no less damaging in this broader sense than they are misguided on a pragmatic level. We conservatives must never forget this, even as we get into the weeds, insisting that this Paul Ryan graph makes more sense than that Harry Reid chart, and so on.
Progress is nothing without principles. The lower-income Americans who understand this and reject the Democrat message of dependence are heroes, not hypocrites. And that Krugman and his ilk exhibit so profound an epistemological inability to grasp this moral truth – much less to praise rather than denigrate those Americans who still ascribe to real values like character and dignity – makes it painfully clear that their bankrupt ideology offers us even less of the latter than the former.