My head is filled with all the House Republican madness about defunding SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The whole thing is such a clear demonstration of what the Republican Party has become. In his column this morning, Paul Krugman wrote, “Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the GOP, because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.” Of course, it is even worse than this. It’s even worse than Jonathan Chait says when he claims that Republicans are narcissists. The modern Republican Party is a nihilistic movement. They really don’t believe in anything. They simply have a vestigial memory that the rich are good and the poor are bad.
For some time now, Dean Baker has been on a crusade against big numbers without context. He pointed out that all of this talk of $40 billion in cuts gives the Republicans political cover. In my defense, I’ve been presenting the number in terms of how it affects the poor. In fact, I put it in context of how many people could be affected (6 million). But when talking about what the Republicans are doing, it is more correct to look at how much money the Republicans are saving the country. And it isn’t much. Over the next decade, the Republicans would be saving us 0.086% off what we will spend.
Of course, in this particular case, the Republicans are not arguing that we must cut SNAP because we don’t have money. But that doesn’t much matter. Republicans throw out justifications for their policies in a random way. It is all about providing political cover. They know that their arguments don’t have to convince people; they just have to be good enough so that the mainstream press will report them as one side of their “both sides now” coverage. And as we see, the bar for that is low enough that a mouse could climb over it.
In order for a society to function properly, it is necessary that everyone agree on norms. What we are struggling with here is a press that can’t admit that one side of the political process has abandoned norms. We continue to get the most naive reporting where journalists pretend that Republicans really believe what they claim. In a normal system, it really would be okay for the press to go to both sides and see what they have to say. That would provide actual coverage. But in our system, reporting without analysis just plays into the hands of the Republican Party.
In the case of the SNAP defunding, we see very clearly how disingenuous the Republicans are. But even in this very clear case, the mainstream reporting does not go beyond he and she said. “The Democrats say that SNAP is a program with low costs, great effectiveness, and little waste. The Republicans say it is a program with high costs, poor effectiveness, and rampant waste. No one can say who’s right; it’s just a matter of opinion!” But of course there is an objective reality. The Republican position is actually just that they don’t like the government to spend money on the poor. And that’s fine! But they should be forced to make that argument and not hide behind falsehoods about fraud that our journalists could easily check if they weren’t afraid of not appearing “objective.”