Sunday, October 03, 2010

It's Not Government Money If It Goes To Me

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One of the most famous quotes from the Days of Rage over health care reform was spoken by an elderly gentleman who got all fired up on a steady diet of tea party hysteria and Sarah Palin Tweets and loudly demanded that the "government keep its hands off my Medicare."

At first I saw it as an amusing example of just how misinformed some people could be. Then I began to notice more and more that a lot of the people who were complaining the loudest about the dangers of a single-payer, publicly funded government health insurance program were themselves recipients under just such a program (the aforementioned Medicare).

A recent Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi noted the number of people at a tea party event who were riding those little scooters - you know, the ones you see on TV commercials that promise that Medicare will pay 100 percent of the cost. He rather unkindly suggested that "[t]he average tea partier is sincerely against government spending - with the exception of the money spent on them."

There's an alternate explanation, to wit: Tea partiers suffer from a strange form of cognitive dissonance that causes them to think that, if the money's spent on them or folks like them, it's not really government spending at all. It's the kindest explanation I can think of for the tea party's love of certain candidates whose public stances are wildly out of sync with their behavior when they're not campaigning.

Take, for example, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul. Paul is no fan of Medicare; he's called it "socialized medicine" and is on record proposing that seniors be subject to at least a $2,000 deductible.

"But try selling that during an election," Paul admitted in a 2009 video.

Now it's 2010, and Paul is very, very unhappy that his opponent is using that statement. Quoting him accurately, according to Paul, is "politics in its lowest form." Well, he'll probably scream like a murdered bunny if his rival starts pointing out that the supposedly tight-fisted Paul also opposed a government proposal to cut some Medicare payments to doctors like himself.

He justified this by protesting that he and his fellow physicians "should be able to make a comfortable living." That's the Paul solution: Grandma pays more, Rand Paul keeps his comfortable living. Anyone who'd buy into this must not really think that Paul's getting that Medicare money from the government.

This curious blind spot regarding government money applies to other types of spending as well. Arizona congressional candidate Jesse Kelly, a TP favorite, really hates government spending in general and the federal stimulus in particular.

"It must stop now," Kelly says of the stimulus. "This is bribery with taxpayer money, and it's a disgrace." He also scoffs at the idea that government spending on infrastructure can create jobs. "Government is not a job creator, it's a job crusher," he claims.

Yet, according to an article in The Tucson Weekly, Kelly's company, Don Kelly Construction, gets a whopping 90 percent of its business from federal contracts, including some projects being paid for with that bad old stimulus money. Guess he doesn't realize that government contracts (and therefore the workers he hires to fulfill them) are paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Another TP-backed candidate is Florida gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott, who also hates, hates, hates the stimulus. According to The Tampa Bay Times, Scott said back on June 2 that he "would fight all the stimulus money" and that Florida "should not have accepted that money."

Perhaps Florida shouldn't have, but when Xfone Inc., a company which lists Scott as a "controlling shareholder," was offered 60 million of those precious taxpayer dollars "to develop high speed Internet infrastructure," Scott put up less of a fight for his virtue than a drunken cheerleader on prom night.

So I have to think that these tea party candidates and the cranky old folks who love them are just suffering from a form of cognitive dissonance brought on by mental illness or possibly a dietary deficiency.

Otherwise, I'd have to believe that they were just unprincipled demagoguing hypocrites who just pretend to care about government spending and only really care that the money's not lining their pockets or being spent by their own people. And that would be terrible, wouldn't it?