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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

Excerpt from A Nation of Moochers: Ryan and the Tipping Point

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From Chapter II of a Nation of Moochers...


By 2004, the non-partisan Tax Foundation calculated, 20 percent of US households were already getting about 75 percent of their income from the federal government.  Government programs accounted for at least 40 percent of the income of another 20 percent of households, meaning that two in five households were reliant on the government for their livelihoods.[i]

Roughly 60 percent of American households actually were receiving more government benefits and services than they were paying back in taxes and the Tax Foundation estimated that under the 2009 federal budget, 70 percent of households will take in more than they contribute.

"Look at it this way," commented Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), "three out of ten American families are supporting themselves plus - through government - supplying or supplementing the incomes of seven other households. As a permanent arrangement, this is individually unfair, politically inequitable, and economically dangerous."

The numbers, said Ryan, suggest we are approaching or perhaps have even passed a "tipping point." Once we pass that point, he says, “we will become a different people.”



Not everyone, however, sees this ‘tipping point” as a bad thing; some leading “progressives” see the growth of dependency as an opportunity for political success.

Writing in The Atlantic, liberal analysist Thomas Edsall made a compelling case for the rise of a coalition of takers and dependents that will dominate American politics. In an article entitled “The Obama Coalition," Edsall argued that such a coalition of those dependent on government aid, public employees, minorities, unions, and other "social democrat" minded liberals could cobble together a majority that would use its clout to spread around even more wealth. [i]

Edsall make the "progressive" case for the "tipping point”:

More than a one out of every four dollars of personal income in the United States, notes Edsall, is now paid for with tax dollars. The percentage of Americans receiving government-financed medical coverage from Medicare or Medicaid has risen from 21 percent of the population in 1987 to 28.4 percent of the population in 2008, meaning that more than one in four were dependent on taxpayer funded health care -- even before the enactment of Obamacare.

"Over the last two years," he wrote, "there has been a massive increase in the number of people who have no place to turn except to the government." The passage of health care legislation will accelerate the process, since a trillion dollars or so will be added to the totals of government transfer payments.

Edsall, who covered national politics for the Washington Post for a quarter century, surveyed the economic and political scene and sees opportunity for the left: The Great Recession and the nation's fiscal crisis "and a demographic transition moving the nation closer to a non-white voting majority," writes Edsall, have "revived, enlarged, and intensified the battle for limited government resources—pitting those seeking to protect what they have against those seeking more."

Constituencies “seeking more” from government are expanding, writes Edsall, noting that "three previously-marginalized groups—unmarried women, Latinos, and African Americans—made up 43 percent of the total electorate and just over 62 percent of the voters who backed Obama..." (Note here Edsall's assumption that unmarried women, Latinos and African Americans by definition support a growth in the dependency culture.)

Edsall envisions "the possibility that the political strength of voters whose convictions are perhaps best described as Social Democratic in the European sense is reaching a significant level in the United States," and if effectively organized "such voters are positioned to set the agenda in the Democratic Party in the near future."

Essentially, Edsall and Paul Ryan are making parallel arguments; they agree that the nation is at a tipping point. In that sense, they are both right: the battle lines of the next few decades have been drawn. But where Edsall applauds the rise of a coalition of the dependent, Ryan sees an economic and cultural disaster.

"Before the 'tipping point,' Americans remain independent and take responsibility for their own well-being,” said Ryan. “Once we have gone beyond the ‘tipping point,’ that self-sufficient outlook will be gradually transformed into a soft despotism a lot like Europe's social welfare states. Soft despotism isn't cruel or mean, it's kindly and sympathetic. It doesn't help anyone take charge of life, but it does keep everyone in a happy state of childhood. A growing centralized bureaucracy will provide for everyone's needs, care for everyone's heath, direct everyone's career, arrange everyone's important private affairs, and work for everyone's pleasure."



The Assumption of Incompetence


Ryan, of course, is right: there is a profound difference in the mentality, morality and politics of the independent citizen and the moocher. You cannot be a moocher without surrendering, roughly in this order: your self-respect, your independence, and ultimately your freedom.  

[i] Thomas Byrne Edsall, “The Obama Coalition,” The Atlantic,  April, 2010

[i]  Rep. Paul Ryan, “Should America Bid Farewell to Exceptional Freedom?” Real Clear Politics, April 2, 2010. Note: Congressman Paul Ryan delivered this speech to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in Oklahoma City on March 31, 2010.


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