Obama won re-election because his voters want “stuff?”


    In their attempts to rationalize defeat, denizens of the Republican right have crafted some spin that quickly evaporates when exposed to factual reality. No surprise there.

    The key word is “stuff.” The spin is that President Obama was propelled to victory by government-dependent voters who want to keep getting “stuff.” This line of reasoning (and I used that word advisedly) is designed to comfort conservatives. It’s a way for them to say, hey, it’s not our fault we got thumped last week, it’s the fault of all those selfish slackers out there.

    Bill O’Reilly lapsed into excuse mode on election night: “There are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.” But he didn’t come up with that talking point on his own; it has long been a conservative mantra. Which is why shape-shifting Mitt Romney naturally saw fit to repeat it.

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    During his pre-nomination pander tour, Romney plucked those chords during his infamous private meeting with fat-cat fundraisers in Florida. And two months later, in July, he did it again. During a stump speech in Montana, he said that anyone who wants “more stuff from government…more free stuff” should just vote for Obama. This talking point has been dutifully echoed, post-election, by the usual online trolls and by the usual talk show characters, like Laura Ingraham, who used her blog to scold Obama voters for failing to “put the good of the country ahead of their personal wants.”

    Actually, what’s most striking is not the sneering condescension – the same condescension that turned off millions of voters in the first place, and that helped grease the GOP’s defeat. No, what’s most striking is that the conservative complaint is so hypocritically fact-averse.

    I’ll prove my point by quoting David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter and a conservative who dwells in the reality-based community. He commented the other day about the “stuff” argument. Over to you, sir:

    “The federal government spends seven times as much money on people over 65 as it does on people under 19. The Republican base are the people who get the most from the federal government. You can’t think if you reject facts. You can’t refer to minority groups as mendicants or moochers simply because they want the economy to function. We need to insult fewer people.”

    Those first two sentences constitute the slam dunk. The people who get the most government “stuff” and government “things” – most notably, Medicare and Social Security – are actually the seniors. And seniors have always been the age cohort most resistent to Barack Obama; indeed, this year seniors were a reliable segment of the Republican base. And Romney nurtured them assidulously, by warning (falsely, of course) that Obama was planning to cut their Medicare. Romney had no problem with the idea of defending the seniors’ “stuff.”

    The point is, everybody gets “stuff.” Corporations get corporate welfare. Rich people get tax loopholes. Middle class people get the home interest mortgage deduction. But when people at the low end of the economic ladder get “stuff,” conservatives go nuts. “Stuff” for the less fortunate is nothing more than a government bribe – or, as Washington Post conservative blogger Jannifer Rubin puts it, the Obama team won the election by “feeding its base cotton candy.”

    But to really appreciate the right’s hypocrisy, check out the data presented recently by political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides. In a September article, they drilled down into a 2008 national survey conducted the Cornell Survey Research Institute – which had asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 programs provided by the federal government. The key takeaway: “97 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats report that they have used at least one.”

    And this was just as important: “Where Americans actually differ is in how they think about government’s role in their lives. A major driving factor here is ideology: conservatives were less likely than liberals to respond affirmatively when asked if they had ever used a ‘government social program,’ even when both subsequently acknowledged using the same number of specific policies.”

    There it is, cognitive denial in action. Republicans partake in “stuff” and “things” and “cotton candy” at virtually the same rate as Democrats do; the only difference is, they’re less willing to cop to it.

    In other words, they’ll never come to terms with what happened last week until they stop maligning so many of their fellow Americans so hypocritically. As David Frum put it best, “You can’t think if you reject facts.”


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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