One of the sharpest moments in President Obama’s inaugural address was the shot he took at Paul Ryan’s worldview: “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Naturally, Paul Ryan feels sad about this cruel mischaracterization of his beliefs:>
“No one is suggesting that what we call our earned entitlements — entitlements you pay for, like payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security — are putting you in a ‘taker’ category,” Ryan said on conservative commentator Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “No one would suggest that whatsoever.”
Let’s take one example:
Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers.
By this definition, anybody who receives more from the government counts as a taker. That would include not only most people on Medicare or Social Security but large chunks of the working class as well.
Ryan and other conservatives have painted Obama’s defense of the welfare state as some sort of absolutist refusal to touch any existing programs at all. In fact, Obama openly stated his willingness to make unpleasant changes to spending programs in order to preserve their long-term viability. But he did, once again, express the vast moral gulf that separates him from Ryan and Ryan’s party. Here is the portion of Obama’s speech immediately preceding the takers jibe:
For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.
That really is a direct shot at Ryan more than anybody else. Obama is arguing that misfortune can strike Americans in all forms — a disability, a storm, illness, or merely outliving our savings — and we have some obligation to each other. Ryan’s budget imposes savage cuts to food stamps, children’s health insurance, and other mitigations of suffering for the least fortunate. Oh, and Ryan also voted against relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. By Ryan’s definition, if the government is rebuilding your destroyed home, you’re a taker, too.