Paul Waldman wrote a great article over at The American Prospect, Let Them Eat Dignity. He used Paul Ryan’s CPAC speech where he wept for kids getting school lunches to compare conservative attitudes toward rich and poor. When it comes to the poor, conservatives care very much about their souls and not so much about their comfort, defined in that case as having enough to eat. When it comes to the rich, conservatives aren’t at all concerned about souls; conservative do everything they can to make the lives of the rich as good as possible with special tax treatment for investment income, the mortgage interest deduction, and cuts to upper-income tax rates.
Go ahead and read the whole article, because I want to focus on just one thing that Waldman mentioned, “I suspect conservatives talk this way as much for their own benefit—for the maintenance of their souls, if you will—as for the poor people they’re ostensibly addressing.” That is broadly true. They couldn’t live with themselves otherwise. It reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live routine where Ronald Reagan was just being manipulated into thinking he was playing the part of the president. In between takes, he would say things like, “But I just don’t understand. Why would a president want to take food away from poor kids?” In reality, I’m sure that Reagan always thought that he was helping poor kids, just like Paul Ryan does today.
A month and a half ago, I wrote, Libertarian Theory and Practice. It was about how libertarian theory only worked as long as it is theoretical. As soon as people start applying it, it falls apart. And this is the reason that libertarians sound like such idiots when they call up Sam Seder. But combining this with what Waldman says, makes me realize something: conservatives (libertarian and other) couldn’t live with themselves if their political philosophy had the practical effect of doing harm.
So Paul Ryan thinks that while Ayn Rand’s philosophy may sound harsh, it will create a great society in which the hungry children are happier. And he’s not the only one. As I discussed in my article on Jamie Johnson’s documentary The One Percent, Milton Friedman makes this same claim. When presented with the fact that the rich have gotten excessively more wealthy the past several decades, Friedman counters that the poor have gotten somewhat wealthier too. Johnson, like one expects from a rich idiot, doesn’t counter him on this point. But now we know: that hasn’t happened. Had Friedman been countered on it, he would likely have admitted the truth: he doesn’t care. But Paul Ryan, as a politician, could never do that.
But the disconnect remains: conservatives think that the souls of the poor must be saved and the souls of the rich are just fine. This is a question of faith that has gone back centuries. It is also, lest we forget, and idea that no American would ever explicitly admit to harboring. It is the idea that God loves the rich more than the poor; that’s why he made them rich! This is the thinking that brought us royalty and the aristocracy. But that is what Paul Ryan believes in, regardless of what he says.
This should not be surprising. Traditionally, it is the conservatives who have protected the aristocracy: from Edmund Burke to John Adams to Milton Friedman, although certainly Adams and Friedman had a different idea of who the aristocracy ought to be. This is conservatism, folks! Don’t get caught up in the specifics of their beliefs. Dig down a little and you will see that they all believe the world is divided into two kinds of people: the right kind and the wrong kind. And the right kind are always the same: the powerful. If they weren’t powerful, they wouldn’t be the right kind of people. And you know what that makes conservatives: boot lickers.