Sunday, February 20, 2011

Willful Ignorance

Mike the Mad Biologist has an interesting post up at his blog. He is incredulous, as am I, at the number of Americans who have utilized government programs, but did not do not realize what they used was in fact, from the government.

I have reproduced the chart to which he refers. It is a little small; you may have better luck reading it at his site, which I linked above. Note that the original study is from Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era (2009), which can be downloaded here (PDF). It is an academic study, so teabaggers won't read it, and Sarah Palin can't.

As Mad Mike observes: "Anyone who follows politics regularly is aware of the phenomenon of the voter who 'wants the government to stay out of my Medicare' (Medicare is a government program). But a huge fraction of recipients of government aid do not believe they have received government aid."

While the data are subject to different interpretations, I think Mike is spot-on when he says:
"This seems a case of willful ignorance by definition. Government aid is for lazy slackers, for 'welfare queens', and, in some people's minds, for those people. Decent, hard-working people don't receive government aid, even when they do. In other words, any program that helps middle-class people, people like themselves, is, by definition, not aid, because government aid is inherently pejorative."
Pervasive and willful ignorance of government's role is the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who assured us repeatedly that government was our biggest problem.  Republicans have continued to frame the debate over government's role, while Democrats have responded ineffectively. A generation of fantastically ill-informed voters is the result.

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