Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s hypocrisy in taking farm subsidies while cutting food stamps is an old story. But it’s a good example of a point I made a couple of days ago when I pointed out how LaMalfa and other Republican Party politicians—who pretend that their constituents don’t need the kind of public investment that would materially benefit their lives—tell an elaborate series of lies, couched in the language of a culture war.
LaMalfa’s hypocrisy was sufficiently blatant that it captured the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which noted his opposition last fall to cut $40 billion from the food stamps program, taking “4 million off the food stamp rolls [in 2014] and 3 million more [in 2015)”.
The people affected, the story notes, “include some of the most destitute people in America. Among the bill’s harshest provisions is a requirement that limits benefits for jobless adults to just three months out of every years. Up to now, states with high unemployment could get a waiver from that rule, because so many adults couldn’t find work. The House bill” that LaMalfa supported did away with the ability to request a waiver.
LaMalfa, who took upwards of $5 million in farm subsidies, described the assault on the poor and the jobless as an effort by “pretty loving people” to “help the poor”. It’s an age old model espoused by the powerful and the wealthy...people who know in their hearts that they would never have to suffer from the savagery of their own ideology: poverty is represented as something like a badge of divine misfavour, and the best thing you can do for the poor is punish them so that they will be forced to change whatever behaviour made them poor in the first place.
The LA Times wrote that “Through his staff, LaMalfa claims that he’s voted to end the farm subsidy programs that made him so much money”. In reality, “the House actually voted to replace the old programs with new ones that could cost taxpayers as much as four times as the original handouts”.
We live in an era in which incomes for working people have stagnated. The wealth of the middle class as a proportion of national wealth has declined dramatically. Services, increasingly privatised and driven by the profiteering mentality of the private sector, are increasingly more expensive. In other words, the costs of survival and basic comfort in our nation have increased, while the resources of most people are driving up.
It used to be that a workforce which was beleaguered in this way would find strength in numbers, and withhold its labour to demand compensation. But LaMalfa’s party has worked assiduously over time to break the back of organised labour. Today they spin the lie that the best thing that non-unionised workers can do to enhance their own livelihoods is to attack their handful of remaining unionised colleagues. You can almost hear the Koch Brothers cackling with glee at their good fortune: buying a few Congresses worth of representatives now will utterly change the nature of the workforce by stripping workers of their rights and making them less secure, more expendable, and far more poorly compensated.
Elites and the politicians who have signed their pledges and taken their oaths pretend that they are all about getting government out of people’s lives. They pretend to be against subsidies. They are, they say, for a “free market”.
In reality, of course, they are highly enthusiastic subsidies to the wealthy—whether those take the form of bank bailouts, farm subsidies, or handouts to insurance industries. They are equally okay with government intervention, so long as that intervention is designed to keep workers down, distort the playing field, and rig the market in favour. A “free market” which prevents the majority from regulating in their favour is not “free” at all.
It is obscene and offensive that someone like LaMalfa would claim to be “helping” the poor by cutting their support at a time when our economy has been wrecked by circumstances beyond their control, and in fact, circumstances in the hands of the GOP’s wealthy backers.
The ideology which LaMalfa represents is one driven by greed, which seeks to engineer an unequal society, in which—as is the case in the U.S. today—a small number of people do superbly well and everyone else struggles. It is one which equates political power with wealth, and seeks to take power from the hands of people and place it in the boardrooms of people like the railroad barons who on an earlier occasion sparked a populist backlash in California.
LaMalfa represents one of the poorer regions of California. He does a fine line in cultural populism and bigotry, and preaches a version of exceptionalism suggesting that his constituents don’t want to live safe, healthy, secure lives with good opportunities for them and their children. And then he stabs his constituents in the back, twisting the knife again and again as he fulminates against workers’ rights and waves his Norquist pledge to never lift a finger to fund their schools or universities or any social welfare programs which would help them when his party devastates their chances at securing a well-paid job with good benefits. While taking his $5 million in subsidies. It’s beyond me why people like him remain in office.