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Class Warriors Who Do Not Want to be Criticized

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The background:

Ten years ago, fresh off his loss to Bush/Cheney as John Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards returned home to open a center on poverty at the University of North Carolina School of Law, his alma mater.

Today, that move looks downright prescient: Ranked better than average in poverty in 2005, North Carolina has since experienced the greatest increase in concentrated poverty in the country. Charlotte has the worst upward mobility of America’s 50 biggest cities. In the east, hundreds of black agricultural towns are neglected and abandoned, and in the west, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia are suffering from a meth and prescription drug epidemic.

The new bosses:

Then Republicans swept the 2010 midterm and won the governorship in 2012, giving the GOP control of Raleigh for the first time since the Reconstruction. Despite the state’s fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, legislators cut unemployment benefits, refused to expand Medicaid, slashed taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor. North Carolina fell to eleventh worst in poverty.

The inevitable:

On three occasions in 2013, UNC Law Dean Jack Boger called Nichol into his office to relay threats from the legislature. If Nichol didn’t stop writing articles, they’d close the Poverty Center, move it to UNC-Pembroke, or he’d be fired. Nichol kept writing the articles.

[…]

Six of the seven working group members are Republicans—including Steven Long, who previously sat on the board at Civitas—and the other one is unaffiliated. Targeted centers include the Juvenile Justice Institute, Carolina Women’s Center, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and the Sonja Haynes Center for Black Culture and History. In December, representatives of the 34 centers spoke at a hearing. “I don’t deny we engage in advocacy and that we have an agenda,” Nichol said at the hearing. “We think people at the bottom aren’t getting a fair shake.”

The working group will make recommendations about cuts and closing to a full BOG vote at their February 27 meeting. If the Poverty Center survives, according to Holmes, we should expect a policy requiring center directors to receive training on what they can and can’t say.

I’m very confident that the same conservatives who argued that students who thought it was a bad idea to give Condi Rice a six-figure paycheck to spout platitudes before a captive audience was the death of free speech in America will be equally outraged by this…

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  • Pseudonym

    Scott, don’t you know by now that class warfare only refers to working and middle class people wanting a more equitable and less skewed income distribution? Wealthy people are just looking out for the economy as a whole and letting their resources trickle down their leg to raise the tide for everyone.

    • Pseudonym

      Incidentally…congratulations!

    • keta

      …BREAKING NEWS…

      …Only one NC state legislator makes it in to work on this date…and he’s having a great time…getting things done

  • jben

    Geez, that’s as shady as hell.

    Good God the comments to that article are awful. Tons of people asserting that the War on Poverty was a useless failiure that the Democrats dreamed up to create a dependent class, and asserting that if the poor just behaved right, they wouldn’t be poor. Ugh.

    Also, ten bucks that half the people who attack “welfare” on that thread are on Social Security.

    • jben

      Hell, even when an actual poor person shows up and tries to explain his difficulties, they are having none of it! Someone tells him to “get a better job”, and some other idiot accuses him of being “jealous”! Is there some reason that anything written on the internet about poverty seems to attract this kind of comment?

      Good Lord, people can be mean!

      Also, I especially like the guy who says he supports limited, temporary programs like SNAP, but hates welfare. Is he completely unaware that SNAP and programs like it have been constantly under assault from right-wing politicians, who attack it as being welfare?!

      Sorry. The constant nastiness and stupidity just depresses me.

      • Rogue Commisioner

        Rank-and-file wingnuts have no idea what the New Republic is. It’s mostly targeted by paid trolls. Their relentlessness is a tell.

    • Shakezula

      Also, ten bucks that half the people who attack “welfare” on that thread are on Social Security welfare ^and the other half still live with their parents.

      Fixed because only blahs and browns receive welfare, everyone else gets “assistance” and trolls.

      • Lee Rudolph

        everyone else gets “assistance” and trolls.

        As a Social Security recipient, I am certainly getting assistance (or as it may be, welfare), but apparently my trolls have been lost in the mail.

        I guess I’ll just have to learn to live without them.

      • UserGoogol

        It’s not simple as just being racism. The belief is that there’s a division between hard working regular folks who might need help, and people who are mooching off the system. This division is extremely racialized, but to paint it as being just about racism gets the causality backwards. People have vague beliefs about the deserving poor and the undeserving poor, and racism is just one ingredient in that.

        • sparks

          Exactly how big an ingredient is it? There may be a Cadillac and some T-bone steaks riding on the answer.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Also, ten bucks that half the people who attack “welfare” on that thread are on Social Security.

      I promise you the absolute worst at criticizing people receiving government benefits are retired-in-their-early-40s military officers. With fat pensions for life, lifetime access to the subsidized PX and country club facilities at any local military base, permanent tri-care medical care for their families (best medical insurance available, government subsidized).

      • You are absolutely correct. But hey, they “earned” it.

        I have a reserve retirement but it doesn’t kick in until I turn 60.

        • CrunchyFrog

          One of the worst I personally know is someone I used to serve with on a volunteer local board. On local issues he’s fine. On national issues he’s as far right as they come.

          In the Air Force he never saw a moment of war. From his stories (and from how he functioned on that local board) it’s pretty clear he was incompetent in every position but got promoted upwards following someone who liked him, ending up at Colonel. He’s been unable to get a job for almost 10 years now, despite applying for everything, which is why he has so much time for volunteer boards. He has absolutely zero self-awareness as he fumes about the unemployed blahs to get government help and assistance with health insurance.

      • JL

        best medical insurance available

        Unless they need an abortion for any reason other than life endangerment or (the doctor being convinced that the pregnancy resulted from) rape, in which case they’re shit out of luck.

        Sorry, totally tangential point, but something that doesn’t get enough public attention.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Well, the Republicans are working as hard as they can to make it, indeed, the “best medical insurance available”.

      • Karen24

        Back in the early 90’s I worked as a hearing officer for unemployment benefits. I had a claimant who was making $3,000/ month in military retirement, when I made about half that. He had quit his job because his employer moved his office from the front to the back of the building*, with no change in duties, title, or responsibilities. He claims he earned his benefits for all those years he was in the Air Force. He also complained about welfare moochers and government leeches in the hearing.

        * my office at this time was a converted closet with no air vent.

  • shah8

    Nothing good can come of this.

    Just a prelude to real class war.

    • Linnaeus

      Prelude?

      • LosGatosCA

        I think he means prelude to a counterattack.

        • Linnaeus

          Ah, that would make sense.

          • shah8

            Well sort of.

            I don’t mean that some redneck will hang Art Pope. I mostly just mean that rednecks, and every other group down on the pole, will increasingly become ungovernable. Remember, ISIS isn’t really killing lots of near Satans and far Satans, or rich Arabs for the most part. They’re just Arab rural unwashed leavened with lots of middle class Arabs from first world countries + Russia who aren’t literate or even comprehend the basics about Islam. Just young, dumb hicks going around with lots of weaponry and destroying the idea that the government is going to save anyone. The stuff that makes ISIS over there can make our own version here, and this is a biiiiiiiiiig country.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Not gonna happen here. The propaganda industry is just too well-oiled and well-funded for there to ever be a breakthrough with the American white working class.

          I spent part of this past weekend in a backwoods town here in the west that lives mostly off of generating coal electricity for distant big cities. The town consists of a mix of very old, small houses (many of them from the early 1900s Sears catalog) and newer (60 or less years old) trailers and manufactured homes. A very tiny set of mansions are locked behind their own gates. You won’t find a closer analogy to feudalism today.

          Listening to the people (99% white) talk and reading their bumper stickers there wasn’t a person in this town who didn’t believe every single thing published on Fox News PLUS a whole bunch of conspiracy theories that Fox is too liberal to publish. This is a town that would comparatively thrive under Democratic governance but would vote for ISIS before they’d vote for a Democrat.

          This is why the billionaires are in no threat of a class warfare counterattack. And why the Democrats are, in effect if not intent, the perfect placebo for an actual leftist party. The Democrats are completely unable or unwilling to counter the attacks from Fox amongst populations like this, and I’m not sure they even bother to try.

          I’m careful to avoid any discussions of politics in places like this – and in general in public. Just politeness. But at dinner in the local Village Inn one night my daughter asked about a bill being proposed in Congress that she’d heard about and whether it might become law. I told her it wasn’t going to happen in the next two years. She asked why and without thinking I said: “Because the Republicans in charge won’t pass any bill that helps regular people unless big corporations will make big profits from it.” Oops. I carefully looked around and a few had heard it and all were in a state of shock. It was as if it had been so long since a white person has voiced such a heretical thought that they didn’t know how to react.

          • keta

            Ahh, America. A Rockwell painting couldn’t have done it better.

            Thanks for this.

          • Derelict

            Fox and the Rightwing Wurlitzer has done an astounding job of convincing middle-class and working-class voters that their interests align with those of the Kochs and Adelsons of the world. When people I know who are scraping by on $30,000 a year are bitching about capital gains taxes because they have a (shrinking) 401(k), that tells me the class war is over. They won and the rest of us now live as a subjugated people–and a majority of us think that’s for the best.

            • postmodulator

              Finally, someone else with a worldview nearly as bleak as mine.

            • Linnaeus

              Sometimes I’m not sure that what you describe is all that new.

              I can’t confirm this, but didn’t Grover Norquist once say something to the effect that the 401k was a great instrument of conservative economic policy because it aligned the interests of workers and the investor class?

            • CrunchyFrog

              Worse, you can find Walmart workers, with no real health insurance and on SNAP, who think an inheritance tax is evil communism.

              For a long time the theory was that these people believe that one day they’ll win the lottery so they were doing this out of misguided self interest. Over time I’ve come to believe that it’s even worse – that they somehow see themselves as “workers” – like the billionaires – and are thus above the non-working blahs and other darkies. So they amazingly have come to identify with the rich based on an intense racial hatred.

            • gusmpls

              If you want further confirmation of your thesis, read the article in the Washington Post about people who will be adversely affected if the Supremes gut ACA. One of the people they highlight is a Texan, a young divorced mother of two (I think) who earns $30k with no benefits who identifies as a Republican, who says something like “I support Greg Abbott’s stand to put Washington in it’s place, but I can’t believe he would do so on the backs of hard working Texans.” Republicans will continue to pay no price for policies that keep the working poor poor. Proof that people like that will continue to spout Republican talking points while Republicans work to make their lives miserable. It is depressing.

          • Phil Perspective

            The Democrats are completely unable or unwilling to counter the attacks from Fox amongst populations like this, and I’m not sure they even bother to try.

            Isn’t that the real problem?

  • Linnaeus

    I’m very confident that the same conservatives who argued that students who thought it was a bad idea to give Condi Rice a six-figure paycheck to spout platitudes before a captive audience was the death of free speech in America will be equally outraged by this…

    And a few liberals, too.

    • Pseudonym

      Self-described at least, though they doth protest too much…

      • Linnaeus

        When I read that spate of columns from folks I normally respect, e.g., Goldberg, Geier, etc., it was really frustrating.

        • Lee Rudolph

          folks I normally respect, e.g., Goldberg

          Please to be specifying which Goldberg.

          • I’m assuming Michelle, who was critical of the commencement speech kerfuffles.

            .

          • Linnaeus

            Michelle Goldberg, here and here.

            • Phil Perspective

              Don’t forget Jonathan Chait!!

    • Deggjr

      The Poverty Center / Condolezza Rice analogy breaks down almost immediately. After the protests the President of Rutgers reiterated the invitation for her to speak. She wouldn’t speak despite her initial acceptance. I’m pretty sure the Poverty Center will accept any invitation to continue.

      Steve Harvey’s advice to OJ Simpson also applies to Condoleeza Rice. “If you’re not guilty, act like you’re not guilty.”

  • I don’t get the comments about the “failed” war on poverty.

    I’m frequently told by conservatives that we don’t really have poor people because they have, you know, sneakers and stuff.

    That means the war on poverty must be a great success to have completely eliminated the problem.

    • They think that we have poor people but they’re poor by choice so they don’t count.

      • postmodulator

        It’s the great paradox, the one I pointed out to that pizza-tax asshole who was around here last year:

        “The unemployed have it easier than people like me who work for a living!”

        “If you really believed that, and capitalism really worked, you’d quit your job and mooch off the government.”

        • Derelict

          Back before Reagan, there was a small group of Republicans who started pushing the idea that the poor (read Blacks) were really a hyper-privileged group. Reagan adopted that idea and pushed it publicly with his T-bones and Cadillacs stories. From there, it has morphed and grown so that we now have a majority of Republicans convinced that being poor is a choice, and people choose to be poor because it’s such an attractive lifestyle.

          I believe it was Trent Lott who said, “We have to tax unemployment benefits so that being unemployed won’t be so attractive.”

        • Lee Rudolph

          No he wouldn’t, because he’s got pride. Manly pride.

          • Hogan

            The kind of pride that says “schools don’t need computers, so why should I pay for them?”

            • Derelict

              Or the kind of pride that says “Plato taught Socrates while sitting on a rock, so we don’t need schools to produce the finest intellects.”

              That guy is in the United States Congress. The local equivalent is the guy who stood up at a meeting of one of my town’s 9 school boards to say, “We got dirt floors at home, so I don’t see why we should pay for replacing the carpeting in the school. They don’t need carpets!”

              • Linnaeus

                So that story about the guy in Detroit who walked 21 miles a day to his job for years because he couldn’t afford to repair his car? One of the first thoughts I had was that someone would say, “Hey that guy walked 21 miles to his job, so if he can do it, you can too!”

                Haven’t seen that yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did.

                • Derelict

                  “Hey, that guy walked 21 miles to his job, so if he can do it, you can too! Which is why we’re eliminating public transit and no longer funding road repair–and giving all the saved tax dollars to your employer!”

      • Hogan

        People used to be poor for the right reasons. Then the stupid Democrats messed up the incentives, and now people are poor for the wrong reasons.

    • gmack

      It’s worth looking at the source of the “War on Poverty” failed rhetoric, which as far as I can tell, is this Heritage.org article on the subject. Just two weeks ago, I actually taught a whole class on this piece, but I’ll skip to one major issue: The authors argue that the poor actually have it pretty good in the U.S., but then they shift the measurement; about 2/3 of the way into the article, they note that official measures of the poverty rate are problematic (which is true, by the way). But then they use the official rate as a proxy measure for what they call “self-sufficiency.” It’s a neat rhetorical trick, because it allows one to argue two things at once: The material lot of the poor has improved, but the War on Poverty is still a failure because large numbers of people still aren’t self-sufficient. Which means that the critique of the War on Poverty is essentially moral. As I’m short on time, I can’t look up the exact numbers. However, I’l add that when you look at the demographic breakdown of those Heritage counts as lacking self-sufficiency (i.e., as having an income that does not lift them over the poverty line), you’ll find that large percentages of them are children, disabled, the elderly, and the working poor (i.e., these categories make up something like 80-90% of those the Heritage article blames for lacking self-sufficiency).

      Beyond that, this piece is a more accurate assessment of the War on Poverty.

      • Rob in CT

        Conservatives have been describing the War on Poverty as a failure since – at a minimum, the 1980s. I remember it clearly as a kid (born 1976).

        Anyway, the roots of that rhetoric probably go back to the 1970s. Hell, they probably go back to the moment after the Johnson launched the effort. The War on Poverty MUST fail. Their ideology demands it.

        • gmack

          Sure, the attacks on the War on Poverty are rather old. However, the specific claims getting made (“OMG! We’ve spent 22 trillion dollars and the poverty rate hasn’t improved!”) is of more recent vintage. The article I linked to also connects up to a basic shift in conservative talk about “welfare.” It used to be that welfare, at least as an object of conservative critique, only referred to emergency cash programs for the poor (the old AFDC program, TANF, and maybe food stamps); those were the programs that marked one as “dependent.” Conservatives now count any means-tested program at all as “welfare” and as an object of critique and apply the same critique to them. It’s that slippage that underwrites Romney’s 47% comment, but also the constant rending of garments about how dependent American society as a whole has become.

          • Rob in CT

            Sure, the attacks on the War on Poverty are rather old. However, the specific claims getting made (“OMG! We’ve spent 22 trillion dollars and the poverty rate hasn’t improved!”) is of more recent vintage.

            I remember this being the gist of what I was hearing from my father in the late 80s. Lots of money spent and yet the “war” wasn’t being won. I really don’t think that part is new.

            It used to be that welfare, at least as an object of conservative critique, only referred to emergency cash programs for the poor (the old AFDC program, TANF, and maybe food stamps); those were the programs that marked one as “dependent.” Conservatives now count any means-tested program at all as “welfare” and as an object of critique and apply the same critique to them.

            That does seem to be a shift.

    • MPAVictoria

      Whenever any one mentions the War on Poverty I always have to link to this:

      http://www.demos.org/blog/4/3/14/war-poverty-cut-poverty-12-billion-people-years

      TLDR- Poverty is a flow not a stock

      • Hogan

        Good stuff. Thank you.

  • Perhaps we can redefine conservatism as “The gut-wrenching feeling that somebody, somewhere isn’t working hard enough.”

    • “The gut-wrenching feeling that somebody, somewhere isn’t mind-gnawingly insecure.”

      Fixt.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Cowed, compliant, and contingently employed.
        You work harder, for less, that way.
        You’re also less likely to ask “Why” that way.

        It’s John Holbo’s “Donner party conservatism.”

    • CrunchyFrog

      Social conservatives: “The gut-wrenching fear that somebody, somewhere is having more fun than you ever do.”

      Economic conservatives: “The gut-wrenching fear that there isn’t a class (read: race) of people who has it worse than you do – that maybe you might actually be on the bottom of the food chain.”

      • guthrie

        I was going to post something similar to your second formulation.

    • Brett

      Yep, and it predates the War on Poverty by many years. Hell, it predates the US – since at least the 17th century, writers from the rich and well-off have been complaining that the poor supposedly won’t do anything except drink, dance, and fornicate unless you force them to under the threat of starvation and homelessness.

      • wca

        the poor supposedly won’t do anything except drink, dance, and fornicate

        Projection has been with us a looooooooooong time.

      • Shakezula

        The new and improved version: You force them to work and allow them to starve and be homeless.

        First person to complain is a moocher!

      • guthrie

        You know what is so funny, is that the biggest such experiments in history have clearly shown that when you make sure everyone in society has a job, a secure job, a place to live and the opportunities to go on holiday or travel a bit, that actually the (relative) poor don’t just drink, dance and fornicate.

        Moreover, an actual study of history would show periods when the very rich did nothing much but drink, dance and fornicate; e.g. 18th century England.

        • Hogan

          When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
          As every child can tell,
          The House of Peers, throughout the war,
          Did nothing in particular,
          And did it very well;
          Yet Britain set the world ablaze
          In good King George’s glorious days!

          And while the House of Peers withholds
          Its legislative hand,
          And noble statesmen do not itch
          To interfere with matters which
          They do not understand,
          As bright will shine Great Britain’s rays,
          As in King George’s glorious days!

    • Manny Kant

      Except for those with inherited wealth, obviously.

    • Linnaeus

      “The gut-wrenching feeling that somebody, somewhere isn’t working hard enough.”

      Or cheaply enough.

  • AstroBio

    “At times in my life,” Nichol says, “I’ve thought that if we work hard enough, that if we make these issues visible, then the wealthy will do more to help those at the bottom. I think that less frequently now.”

    At times in my life, I have been proud of my home state. We used to have innovative programs/policies relevant to income distribution and education access. I am proud of NC very infrequently now.

    • Brett

      North Carolina actually used to be progressive in some ways (including some bad ways – they ran an involuntary sterilization program for a long time). They were one of the first couple of states to liberalize part of their abortion laws before Roe, which makes the current state government’s severe rollback extra unpleasant.

      • Gabriel Ratchet

        It used to be “the smart Carolina.”

  • Shakezula

    There now follows an appeal on behalf of extremely rich people who have absolutely nothing the matter with them.

    • Ahuitzotl

      #notallplutocrats

  • Morse Code for J

    One wonders how much wider and stronger our social safety net would be if there weren’t so many white people concerned about the number of black people using it.

    • Gabriel Ratchet

      Heck, we could be Sweden — if we had the same demographics.

  • Funkhauser

    Ten years ago, fresh off his loss to Bush/Cheney as John Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards returned home to open a center on poverty at the University of North Carolina School of Law, his alma mater.

    LOL! What a Breck girl move!

    • Morse Code for J

      Maureen Dowd: I can’t tell you what is happening or how it relates to the public good, but I can tell you how you should have expected what happened because of his haircut.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But we KNOW he doesn’t give a shit about poverty because he cheated on his wife! The logic is unassailable!

      • DrDick

        And he is rich!

        • Rogue Commisioner

          And he lives in a big house!!! Oh wait, that’s Al Gore.

          • Derelict

            No, no–Gore is fat, which explains why climate change is a hoax. And his house wears earth-tones, which is bad for his electoral prospects of creating the internet.

  • DrDick

    In fairness, it is not just criticism that they hate. They are absolutely outraged that people have the audacity to point out the fact that they are, and have been forever, overtly engaged in class warfare.

  • pianomover

    Lets not forget that slaves were lazy also.
    Here in California were constantly awakened by lazy Mexicans with leaf blowers.

    • JR in WV

      We know they are lazy, because if they weren’t they would use rakes, quietly, as we they did in the olden days.

      And so would not awaken us.

  • keta

    I’d just like to say that Republicans do care about the poor, and the disenfranchised, and those that look for help from the government and their representatives.

    They reach out in a very effective manner.

    • Mike G

      Republicans moan and Republicans bitch
      Our rich are too poor
      And our poor are too rich

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