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Aaron Regunberg: Republicans Did Not Build That

Friday, August 31, 2012


During the 2009 debate around the Affordable Care Act, which includes around $700 billion in savings to Medicare, an interesting new slogan began popping up on the signs of Republican protesters and in the headlines of conservative blogs: “Keep government out of my Medicare!”

It’s a funny line, but it’s actually a very incisive one, as well. It cuts to the heart of what seems to be one of the most important falsehoods upon which today’s Republican Party is based. The core of most conservative arguments is that government is bad, that real Americans never use it for help, so in conclusion it’s unfair for anyone else to get supported by the government. The big, gaping flaw in this understanding of the world is that nearly all of the conservatives who make it—who’ve achieved such great success that they don’t want to be dragged down by the needy masses—have benefited tremendously from government support. The Medicare issue above is a great example: “What? Obama wants to extend healthcare access to Americans who can’t afford it? That’s not fair! I’ve never gotten a government handout, why should these lazy, undeserving people who can’t afford healthcare get one? And this better not mess with my Medicare coverage!”

The misconceptions and ignorance (and, at a higher level on the food chain, lies) that created signs saying, “Don’t steal from Medicare to support socialized medicine” are not an isolated affair in the GOP. They’re a fundamental part of the conservative worldview, and the Republican National Convention has put that on vivid display this week.

I haven’t been able to watch the entire GOP National Convention, but the parts I’ve been able to catch make one thing overwhelming clear—the modern-day Republican platform requires a serious misunderstanding of the role that government has had in American history and, indeed, American life today. Charles Pierce wrote a great piece in Esquire after the first night of the convention that takes a detailed look at this issue, and I want to highlight some of his insights along with some of the thoughts I had while watching.

The slogan for the first night of the convention was “We Did Build It,” a line that has become a centerpiece of the Romney campaign after President Obama made the patently, self-evidently true comment that business owners ship products along roads that, chances are, they, the business owners, did not actually build. Obama was making a relatively obvious point—that government does important things, like invest in roads and infrastructure and education and public safety that we all need to have a successful economy and society.

Because this simple fact of life is anathema to today’s Republican Party, conservatives chose to spend the first day of their convention trying to prove Obama wrong. But they had a very strange way of going about that. Take, for example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s keynote speech, in which Christie used lessons from his own upbringing to explain why government is the problem and anyone who uses it needs to man up and be an American. Here’s what he said about his immigrant parents:

“They both lived hard lives. Dad grew up in poverty. After returning from Army service, he worked at the Breyer’s icre-cream plant in the 1950s. With that job, and the GI Bill, he put himself through Rutgers University at night to become the first in his family to earn a college degree.”

So Christie’s father’s success—which, needless to say, laid the foundation for Christie’s own opportunities and success—was all of his own doing. Except, of course, for his reliance on the GI Bill, one of the biggest pieces of social welfare policy in American history, which used tax dollars to send Christie’s father to Rutgers (which, I should mention, is a public, tax-funded university). The GI Bill also generously supported the purchase of the Christie’s first house, which became the foundation for the family’s wealth (incidentally, if your family bought a house in the suburbs in the 40s, 50s, or 60s, they also probably did so using the help of the GI Bill and other federal homeownership policies). So yes, they totally built that all themselves, except, you know, for the massive and critical government assistance they received.

Earlier on that day, the convention’s speaking program featured Jack Gilchrist, a New Hampshire metal-shop owner who was used in several of the Romney campaign’s “You didn’t build that” attacks by prominently claiming that he and he alone built his business. The problem for Jack, of course, is that his company has received multiple millions of dollars in small-business loans from—you guessed it—the government. Interestingly enough, all of the other business-owner surrogates Romney featured in his attacks on Obama have also relied heavily on government contracts, credit, and other public assistance. Jack was followed by Sher Valenzuela, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in Delaware, who spoke about her own business that she and she alone built, not mentioning the consulting she’s done for different groups on how to get government contracts, but talking quite a bit about her husband and father, both of whose Army salaries came right from our tax dollars.

I could go on and on here, but I think I should try to wrap up with the moral of the story. So here it is, conservatives: you have been helped by government. Chances are, you have been greatly helped by government. If your family was, like most American families, not in the middle class in the 1930s but in the middle class by the 1960s, then you probably received more government welfare—in the form of subsidized education, subsidized home mortgages, employment funded in some way by government contracts, and massive investments in transportation and suburban infrastructure—than anyone currently on TANF (Temporary Assistance of Need Families) could ever dream of.

Which is fine! It’s great! It’s allowed you to have new opportunities and find new success, and that’s a really good thing. But now that you have that success, you can’t pull up the drawbridge behind you. You can’t kick the public assistance ladder down after you climbed up it, and then claim you flew up there all by yourself. And you sure as heck can’t go around ranting about how we need to destroy all the other ladders in the country because they’re keeping the American people weak and dependent.

Or at least if you do, you should try to be a little less obvious about how dishonest you’re being.


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Aaron, you do realize that people pay into Medicare, correct?

Comment #1 by Independent One on 2012 08 31

When Barry obama made those comments,

When you put them into context of who he was
Speaking to, it's pretty clear he was pandering
To his demographic base( the way he sets most policy)

And the division this creates in society .

The class warfare

He's a president in the gutter , Chicago style

Putting his own political future ahead of all ericans

He really has no shame. No sense of the country
Or the presidency

Comment #2 by jon paycheck on 2012 08 31

The author of this article obviously just doesn't get it. It's okay, just keep your lips planted firmly on Obama's rear end and see how far that gets you in life.....

Comment #3 by Russ Hryzan on 2012 08 31

Aaron. You ought to speak with some republicans so you get a better of what they really believe. This statement is just false and nothing but a predjudiced blanket assusation against millions of voters:

"The core of most conservative arguments is that government is bad, that real Americans never use it for help, so in conclusion it’s unfair for anyone else to get supported by the government."

Nearly all Republicans (including Romney and Ryan) do not claim that all "goverment is bad." More accurately, they say that an ever-expanding, high-cost, intrusive and inefficient government is bad.

Nearly all Republicans are in favor of helping needy US citizens with tax-funded programs. More accurately, they are opposed to giving hand-outs to non-citizens, and to creating a class of welfare "slaves" that are encouraged to spend their life in that demeaning lifestyle. Republicans actually have pretty large and generous hearts when it comes to supporting people who have truly fallen on hard times, veterans who need better treatment than they are getting from the current administration, and people who want to find jobs -- creating those jobs is what most Republicans undertand MUST happen if you really want to lift people permanently out of poverty.

Comment #4 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 08 31

Also...i hope the media-type dems like Aaron stick with the message that America's small business owners "did not build that." Everytime that gets published, a whole bunch of hard-working voters switch from undecided to decided...for Romney/Ryan. Please Aaron, keep on writing and please syndicate your views nationally.

Comment #5 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 08 31

Speaking of falsehoods, the photo above is a (poor) photoshop job.

Comment #6 by Jim Atchison on 2012 08 31

Thank you captain....

You are 100 percent correct

There are many sincere, giving conservatives that
Help people by writing out their own check as opposed
To many on the left that don't spend their own money
But love to spend government money.

Comment #7 by jon paycheck on 2012 08 31

M. Regunberg: like most liberals, you are good at presenting the one side of a story that suits your point of view. Stories have two sides, however, and it might be useful to look at the other sides of two of your examples. First of all, businesspeople whose goods travel on roads are also taxpayers. In fact, they pay both personal and corporate taxes in many cases. The other example relates to the GI Bill. That was for GI's. What a shock! But that means that Gov. Christie's father had served in the military, and had deserved his GI Bill money. It would be nice if you liberals acknowledged some of the other aspects of the things that you present. Just to be "Fair and Balanced."

Comment #8 by Michael Trenn on 2012 08 31

Man, I wanted to answer comments but I can't really see any attempts to actually respond to any of the main points I tried to make in this piece.

Comment #9 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 08 31

Of course, Republican Abe Lincoln subsidized the building of the nations's railroads for westward expansion with government money.
As did Republican Dwight Eisenhower use government subsidies to build what was the best national highway system in the world.

But those Commies couldn't be Republicans these days.

Comment #10 by Roger Lachance on 2012 08 31

Mr. Regunberg: Why don't you try to write a piece that actually makes some legitimate points, instead of simply parrotting the Obama line. We don't know how smart Obama is, because we've never seen his school records.

Comment #11 by Michael Trenn on 2012 08 31

Hey haters, try reading a newspaper every now and again, you might learn something! Simply listening to Glen Beck and his cronies at the LEAST "fair and balanced" news network in the world does not constitute getting educated about politics. In today's New York Times there's a great article about all of the inaccuracies Romney and Ryan have been spewing the past few weeks. The lack of shame in today's Republican party is mind boggling. If you truly were open to Obama when he took office and have since become dissatisfied with the performance of the administration there's a conversation to be had there, but I'm willing to bet the majority of you have been screaming "bloody murder!" since election night four years ago. Why? The answer rhymes with Tracism, especially you paycheck. Find a better way to spend your time than hating on community organizer who's just trying to make the world a better place.

Comment #12 by Randolph Dachille-Curren on 2012 08 31

Aaron-are you that much of a moron to call the GI Bill a social welfare program?Of course,someone like you who never served this country(correct me if I'm wrong and I'll apologize)doesn't get the dynamic there.We paid up front by giving the government a blank check on our bodies and minds.I'd like you to repeat that remark in any of the waiting rooms at the VA Medical Center here.Not happy places at all.You wouldn't like the reaction.
A real social welfare program requires nothing but legitimate need.I'm not against WIC,AFDC,or anything else that addresses such a need,but please don't compare welfare and the GI Bill.Unemployment insurance is different-it too requires up front input.
BTW Aaron I am now 80% disabled from service in Vietnam and I did indeed finish college on the GI Bill-I declined a student deferment and enlisted as a teenager.I don't have to explain myself to you or any one else about that.

Comment #13 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 08 31

Joseph, I'm a little confused by your comment. I am a HUGE supporter of the GI Bill--it has helped millions and, as I said, was a huge component of the building of the American middle class. But it's very clearly a social welfare program--it's a government program helping people. That's all that phrase means (despite how conservatives try to make it into a derogatory term). I'm incredibly glad the GI Bill helped you after your service and your unimaginable sacrifices. And I believe that if it's clear government can do such good, we should let it. Does that make more sense?

Comment #14 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 09 01

I think we have a different set of criteria for defining a social welfare program.
I'm not making a value judgement-rather I'm suggesting that any benefit that requires a contribution of a meaningful nature is not a social welfare program-that includes SS and Medicare which require contributions in the form of taxes.

Comment #15 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 09 01

Maybe SS and Medicare and Unemployment Insurance/TDI could be described as social insurance programs-premiums in the form of taxes support these expenditures,although I don't believe employees pay anything towards Unemployment as they do towards TDI.

Comment #16 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 09 03

Aaron, What Joseph is saying is yes the veterans received money from the GI Bill, but that was compensation for services rendered. The veterans took a risk for the Country much the same way a business man will take a risk on a product. Government has a role to play in business, it has to provide a business friendly climate.
Government can do this by providing good infrastructure and emergency services. These are things all the citizens will use. What you are advocating is taking from those that produce and giving it to those that don't.

Comment #17 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 09 06

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