Elections have consequences. It’s an old saying, but it’s not true. Or not true enough. In the United States today, the counties with the greatest dependency on government benefits are the ones that most reliably vote Republican. That would be the same Republican party that runs on a platform of cutting entitlement spending. So here’s my idea: Let’s link ballots to the government check-writing department. If you vote Republican, the government checks stop coming to you. That’s what you say you want, right?
Oh, you meant the government checks to those other people, the freeloaders. Not to deserving folks like you. Well, tough as it may be to believe, it’s mostly deserving folks like you who are getting help. It’s middle class people who receive the earned income tax credit or get help with school lunches or day care. It’s the guy who worked hard all his life and had an accident on the job and now collects disability. It’s a grandmother on social security. It’s millions getting health care through Medicare.
You’re not freeloader, but neither are these folks. Sure there is waste and fraud in government spending, and we should work to reduce both, but human nature being what it is, we’re never going to get rid of all of it. Some waste is just the price of doing business, like the unsold fruit that spoils in a supermarket, or the clothes that are shoplifted at the department store.
There are many possible explanations for why people receiving government aid vote for a party that wants to cut it. Guilt is one. No one likes to feel dependent. We all like to think we can take care of ourselves, so we vote for that myth. Selfishness is another. That needs no explanation. But the biggest factors, I believe, are ignorance and fear. The ignorance is of who is actually getting what from the government, and why. And the fear is that the less worthy will take too much and leave too little for us.
All that is perfectly understandable. The facts are hard to get. (Although The New York Times did an impressive job today in a front-page article that sparked and informed this essay). And even when we have the facts, we are deeply programmed to look after, and rationalize on behalf of, ourselves. If government spending needs to be cut, it must be because of the shiftless, lazy moochers, because good honest folks like us couldn’t really be causing such a big problem.
But, the truth is, we are. All of us. We all benefit from government spending, and most of us receive what are called entitlements. We need to get out of our current deficit pinch in a collaborative, sensible way. Higher taxes on the rich and cost-control in Medicare would be good places to start. Voting for the Republican fantasy of small government isn’t going to help. If you want to do that, you should have to put your money where your vote is.
Secret ballots are important. I’m sure we could figure out a way to preserve that essential democratic value. My son Nick is a fine programmer. I’ll bet he could work out a link between the voting machine and the government payments office that would not identify anyone except to the database that spit out government checks. Republican voters would be the only ones who knew they were truly standing on principle.