When I first heard South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's now infamous remarks comparing people who receive public assistance to "stray animals" who "breed," I simply thought it was a really goofy way to criticize welfare. Other than that, I really didn't find Bauer's comments controversial, just clumsy. In fact, I agree with the gist of his sentiments.
Any time government gets involved with or subsidizes something, it tends to promote or breed that very thing. When President Eisenhower coined the phrase "military-industrial complex," he was warning that military subsidies were quickly becoming an industry where government might begin to make war for profit and not just basic defense. Ike was right.
When the federal government gave bailout dollars to big banks in 2008, many took improper advantage of it. And when government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, or "free" school lunches are offered, such programs quickly prove inefficient, become bankrupt, and, to quote Bauer, end up "facilitating the problems" they were intended to address.
The primary stink concerning Bauer's comments is that he compared human beings to animals. He did. So does anyone who uses the phrase "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." That usually doesn't elicit much controversy. If I honestly believed Bauer was trying to dehumanize poor people, I would take serious issue with his comments, but I found his analogy no more intentionally malicious than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's clumsy use of the word "negro."
Still, once you clear away all the PC muckety-muck surrounding the lieutenant governor's comments, South Carolina conservatives considering making Bauer the next governor might want to take issue with his recent method of attacking big government, even if they agree with his sentiment.
The greatest problem facing the Palmetto State is the same facing the nation: our government continues to spend money it does not have. This affects the value of the dollar, which affects the overall economy, which affects unemployment, and so on. Bauer's call to focus on public assistance is legitimate, but fiscally, it's a comparatively trivial concern. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are already bankrupt. The military-industrial-complex Eisenhower warned about is here in full force. Right-wing talk radio accuses the president of cutting defense spending when nothing could be further from the truth, unless adding another $33 billion to a 2010 defense budget already approaching a trillion dollars qualifies as a government "cut." Bank bailouts? More "stimulus?" National healthcare? Contrary to Obama's supposed federal spending freeze, that big government snowball keeps a-rollin'.
A governor has little to no control over such federal matters, but there's something special about one perceptive enough to recognize the correlating, damaging effect of runaway government spending at all levels. When Gov. Mark Sanford refused the federal stimulus, a significant portion of which would have gone to aid the state's unemployed, most state politicians, including Republicans, called him heartless. Yet Sanford stood firm, warning that accepting the federal stimulus would only prolong the state's problems and the debt accrued would inevitably make things worse.
And it has. The Post & Courier reported last week: "The [unemployment] agency has borrowed more than $700 million from the federal government since October 2008 to pay out jobless benefits to the unemployed in South Carolina, which has one of the nation's highest jobless rates — 12.6 percent in December."
Unemployment continues to rise, the state's budget continues to grow, and "stimulus" has now given South Carolina more debt. Sanford was right. Yet, when Sanford was making national headlines battling against federal stimulus, Republicans like Bauer never showed a hint of support. In fact, the last time Bauer made national headlines before two weeks ago was to attack Sanford in the wake of the governor's admission of adultery.
Many become angry when they see EBT recipients buying non-essential items only to step into a Cadillac, or when schoolchildren from middle-class backgrounds receive free lunch. Meanwhile, the concept of the "welfare queen" has been a conservative gripe for almost as long as there has been a conservative movement.
But what has any Republican done about it? Better yet, what Republican has done much of anything to stop spending, period? GOP politicians have long used welfare, or gay marriage, or abortion, or other hot button issues to rally their conservative voting base — and then proceed to spend as much as any Democrat.
I have not seen anything in the lieutenant governor's record to indicate that he's much different from the typical establishment Republican, and I've certainly not seen him exhibit any Sanford-style conservatism. And far from rallying this conservative to his side, Bauer's welfare comments simply reinforced my already low expectations.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.