Word Watch

Contrary to what some would have us believe, adding and subtracting are not the same.

Recent political robocalls received here have included one from the Republican National Committee, urging support for Republicans running for state legislature since  (and I quote) Democrats support “gutting welfare reform.”

Interesting double-switch there as the Republicans have taken something many see as a negative — welfare cuts — and made it a positive by calling it “welfare reform.”   The negative is brought back in with the word, “gutting.”

So the Democrats want to maintain the social services programs that help children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor?  Doesn’t have the same bite to it, does it?

“Gutting” is a word that is more often used to refer to the actions of conservatives, so it is interesting to see it used against Democrats.

The angry-at-the-feds Paul LePage last week twisted the truth in much the same way, stating that the medicaid cuts he has proposed are necessary to “preserve the program.”  Having wealthy Mainers forgo even a portion of the extra income they now have as a result of the LePage tax cut would be another way to preserve the program — without a reduction in services being provided — but apparently that one is not on the table.

It has not escaped us that Mitt Romney’s number one strategy has been deflecting attention from his own glaring weaknesses by associating Obama with the same weaknesses.   Romney has no plan for the economy.  He has a reputation for flip-flopping on issues.  And, most ironic of all, he spends a lot of air time criticizing the Obama campaign for going negative.

“Go all in, Mitt,” We want to say to him.  Criticize Obama all you want — but don’t waste our time whining about what the opposition is saying and pretending you’re not doing the same thing.

Against Their Own Interest:
Why the Rural Poor
Vote Republican

Romney campain sign.

The $250 million man, Mitt Romney, apparently has friends in trailer parks. Once the election has past, will these folks be even a blip on his radar screen?

A recent poll has Romney with a 5 point lead over Obama in Maine’s 2nd District, which encompasses the poorer, less educated, more rural, northern parts of the state.

A CNN poll showed that nationally, in the last midterm election, 41% of those earning below $30,000 voted Republican.

In 2012, the rural vote seems to be trending  strongly toward the Republicans on a nationwide basis.  One recent nonpartisan poll  shows Romney leading Obama 59 percent to 37 percent  among rural voters in battleground states.

How can this be?

How is it that so many of the rural poor cast their votes for Republican candidates who differentiate themselves from their Democratic rivals primarily by their promises to shrink the social safety net and reduce taxes on the rich?

Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? takes on this question, and  returns the answer that conservatives have co-opted the votes of the poor largely by focusing campaigns on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Conservatives have been very successful at propagating the words that the media and ultimately the public use to talk about issues.  Being a beneficiary of government programs is “dependency.”  Taxes are “job-killers.”  The wealthy are “job creators.”  Any step toward government intervention is “socialism.”  The word “government” itself has been assigned a negative connotation.  The previously accepted citizen duty to pay taxes is an imposition on ones “personal freedom.”  The repetition of these terms, especially in the conservative media, undoubtedly influences how people think — and, unfortunately, the less educated the person, the more compelling the language.

A  factor contributing to the present “unpopularity” of government social programs is a lack of understanding of what those programs are.  According to a New York Times article, “Many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. According to the article, 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

The irony, of course, is that many who state they are opposed to government programs are actually beneficiaries of government support — they just don’t think of it that way.

This is overstatement, of course, but it also contains some truth. The question is, “Why do so many of the poor and working poor vote against their own economic best interest?”

Another factor that helps conservative candidates  attract less educated voters is that their ideology tends to fall on the less nuanced, more straightforward, more gut-response side of issues.  “Protect the unborn!”  “Eliminate the death tax!”  “Defend Israel no matter what.” “Welfare creates dependency.”    “Illegal aliens should self-deport.”  On some levels, it is difficult to present arguments against this kind of thinking.

Rural people in general and rural Mainers in particular tend to be independent-minded and skeptical of government.  The bigger and more distant the government, the higher the degree of skepticism.  This plays well into support for conservatives due to the Republican mantra of “smaller government.”

It is also important to acknowledge the role that the church plays in shoring up the rural conservative vote.  Especially for people with few social outlets, the church and the worldview offered within its walls can play a compelling role.  Adding to this, the rural poor attend church at a higher rate than other groups. A 2008 study found  church attendance in poor rural communities to be nearly double that in wealthier, more urban communities.  Not all rural churches are conservative-leaning, of course, but — for whatever reason — it seems the vast majority of them are.

It’s disheartening to think of so many of America’s downtrodden voting for candidates whose plan for the poor consists of (1) trickle down; and (2) admonitions to get up off the couch.  Unfortunately, there may not be much Democrats can do to change this between now and November 6 — so we just have to hope that the poor are smarter than  conservatives think.