I must confess, I have a lot of sympathy for Republicans right now. They’ve fearlessly branded themselves as the anti-Robin Hood party. But “Stealing from the poor to give to the rich” doesn’t play well as a party slogan—not in a hyper-sensitive culture, where you can’t even commit police brutality anymore without having football ruffians hijacking the Star Spangled Banner.
So, I admire Republicans. Who else could say with such unabashed swagger, for instance, that “we’re prepared to destroy the healthcare system if that’s what it takes . . . because we promised for the last seven years that we would?”
You just don’t find that kind of steadfastness of purpose in American political life anymore.
Of course, some progressive milquetoast will surely object that using the promise to repeal Obamacare as the reason to vote for an ill-considered bill like Graham-Cassidy is akin to saying, “In a fit of pique I promised to drive my car into your living room. So, even though I know that it’ll kill your family, I guess I’d better follow through on it. Otherwise, what will people think of me?”
(Answer: They’ll think you’re a monster who drives cars into people’s living rooms.)
But let’s not get overly sentimental about the GOP’s effects on the nation’s living rooms, or worse, on the unfortunate families that inhabit them. We should concentrate on the sheer amount of effort and unbridled cynicism it takes to burnish ones partisan credentials with one’s base, regardless of how many people get hurt. Because, let’s be honest, that requires a breath-taking amount of audacity.
Or think about the recently unveiled Republican tax reform trial balloon. One might think that flogging a tax reform proposal that cuts the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6% to 35% and raises the lowest rate for the poorest Americans from 10% to 12%—all while claiming it’s not a tax cut for the rich, but for the middle-class—would require a brazenness that not even this scrum of the perpetually shameless could pull off. But one would be wrong. The president and his enablers in congress are amazingly adept at saying things they know to be untrue with a wink, a nod, and a shrug of the shoulders that says, “What? I said it with a straight face.”
And lest you think I’m bitter about their unblushing mendacity, I want to be quick to reassure you that I’m in awe of them. Take it from me, it’s no easy feat to condescend without appearing condescending. The rhetorical landscape is much more treacherous nowadays, what with all this “political correctness” in the air.
Gone are the halcyon days when you could say what you wanted about people whom you knew didn’t deserve your respect. Everybody knew their place. And society ran more smoothly when the folks at the top could speak plainly—without euphemisms or dog-whistles—about folks at the bottom.
But now it takes a lot of work to disparage the vulnerable without appearing offensive. You have to be more creative. There was a time when you could throw about “welfare queens” or the 47% “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims . . . who pay no income tax.” But even those kinds of rhetorical shortcuts are out of bounds today.
The GOP needs more artful ways to express contempt for the disadvantaged. We need to retire some of the old ways of referring to the poor, like, for example, “the poor.”
Some genteelisms we might do away with include “underprivileged,” “the needy,” and “the have-nots.” I also think we can probably put “unfortunate,” “down-and-out,” and “luckless” to bed. These euphemisms are all used up. They no longer convey a sufficient depth of disdain.
So, because I know dumping on poor people is still an important objective for many on the right, and because I’m tired of hearing them apologize for their inelegance when they slip up and say what they mean, I thought I’d offer some help. Perhaps a few alternative ways of maligning those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, ways that might slip past the political correctness censors.
- Dickensian wealth scavengers
- Subaltern advantage surfers
- Non-wealthy benefit freebooters
- Post-industrial healthcare scofflaws
- Non-elite assistance grifters
- Plebeian profit vacuums
- Sub-optimal fortune creators
- Under-perfoming affluence peddlers
- Pre-successful asset flâneurs
- Anti-prosperity resource gluttons
- Over-leveraged commonweal denuders
- Proletarian aid foragers
These are just a few possibilities. Perhaps, dear reader, you might offer up some of your own.
Our courageous Republican friends need us. They have their boots on the necks of the poor, and can’t afford to let up now. Please, have a heart for the heartless.