Democrats Have Dickens, GOP Ayn Rand

Tiny Tim


Donald Trump has released his proposed budget and it’s taking me back to the early days of the Reagan administration, when Budget Director David Stockman tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable (I suppose so that schools wouldn’t have to pay for peas or carrots). I blame Ayn Rand more than Trump, however, since it sounds like the GOP is still in her thrall. The slashing of governmental programs and benefits has long been high on the list of what Charlie Pierce of Esquire calls “the firm of Scrooge and Marley.”

Here’s Paul Waldman with a partial list of what the Trump administration “would like to scale back or end altogether“:

–Giving school lunches to hungry kids
–Providing after-school programs
–Feeding elderly people who can’t leave their homes
–Providing food assistance and support for low-income women with young children
–Supporting economic development in rural communities
–Cleaning up environmental damage
–Providing a national service program for young people to help communities around the country
–Working to stop climate change
–Conducting research to find cures for diseases
–Giving grants to libraries and museums
–Helping people afford housing
–Saving consumers money and helping the environment through the EnergyStar program
–Doing cutting-edge research on new sources of energy
–Helping to build roads and public transit systems
–Providing funds to local police departments to prevent terrorist attacks
–Conducting diplomacy to advance American interests around the world

In addition to these cuts is House Speaker Paul Ryan’s dream of slashing Medicaid:

Speaking to National Review editor Rich Lowry at an event hosted by the conservative magazine, House Speaker Paul Ryan made the case for the American Health Care Act by presenting it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cut Medicaid spending.

“We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around,” Ryan says, before interrupting himself to clarify exactly how big of an opportunity this is, “since you and I were drinking out of kegs.”

To which Vox’s Matt Yglesias responded,

Imagine having the chance to finally achieve your youthful dream of kicking poor people off health care.

Ryan is famously an Ayn Rand devotee and used to give all his staff copies of The Fountainhead  and Atlas Shrugged. Now, I can forgive Ryan for his Rand fixation when he was a college student attending keggers—young people fall in love with big ideas, especially those that challenge them to be tough and make it on their own. We expect adults to be more mature, however. In that light, it’s always worth quoting Canadian author John Rogers’s cutting observation about teenagers who fall in love with Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Although Ryan claims to care about the poor, his keg reminiscence fits a pattern of other emotionally-stunted comments he’s made over the years. Remember when he described free school lunches as offering kids “a full stomach and an empty soul”?  Or when he warned about the danger of turning the safety net into a hammock.

Some wonder whether Ryan is furious that he himself needed social security survivor benefits to attend college. Maybe he was so ashamed that he feels the continual need to lash out at such programs. Whatever the explanation, his and Trump’s program-cutting fervor calls for the author whose novels, more than any other, led policy makers to develop such programs. You know who I have in mind:

“Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. “And the Union workhouses,” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh. I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,’ returned the gentleman, ‘a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

A version of Scrooge’s logic is at work in Ryan’s American Healthcare Act, which projects that premiums will go down–but that’s just because those between 50-65 will start dropping out because their premiums will skyrocket. Ryan doesn’t believe that the young and healthy should help pay for the old and sick, and he doesn’t believe that the government should help people. Including Tiny Tim.

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