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. I’ll get to why I think that’s the case in a bit, but first consider this chart:
Like I mentioned, mind-boggling.
How can 43% of those who received a Pell Grant–college aid–not know that it came from the government? Not only is it all over the grant application forms, but, presumably, at least some of the recipients were smart enough to get into a college and, maybe, even graduate.
Veterans benefits aren’t government aid (41%!?!)? How is that possible? One argument is that these programs are invisible:
Mettler argues that any real reform that involves these hidden non-state actors must begin with explicitly making the invisible visible to the eyes of the public. It takes time and effort to bring the machinery of the submerged state up into the light of day, but it’s necessary — and effective. Obama’s effort to restore direct federal funding of student loans was a good example of this. The banks were making billions each year off this program, at the expense of millions of students who should have been getting that money instead. He was able to pull this off because activists and journalists had already spent several years hauling the ugly wreck of a policy up into public view, which weakened the ability of banking lobbyists to defend their position. By the time Obama arrived, they were weak enough that he could demand — and get — a complete end to this lucrative subsidy.
I think this is overthinking the problem. 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.
This just shows how toxic conservatives have made our discourse–and how Democrats and progressives have failed to challenge that poisoning.