Shame and the Tea Partier: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

I just finished reading James Gilligan’s Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. Gilligan describes the political effects of a shame-driven personality:

There is a paradox at the heart of shame. Although we usually think of shame as an emotion, namely, the emotion of self-love (or, as it is also called, pride, self-respect, self-esteem, or the feeling of self-worth). The power of shame is often overlooked that the most painfully shameful experiences are frequently those in which the provocation of shame seems most trivial, objectively….

To the extent that people misidentify their own need for help and support from others as a shameful sign of personal failure or weakness rather than a feature of the human condition…, they are likely to project their own need for support onto so-called “welfare queens” whom they can them shame, reject, and punish. That is one way in which shame can stimulate right-wing political and economic attitudes and values. To the shame-driven person, “dependency”, such as being dependent on “welfare,” is not something to be sympathized with, it is one of the worst evils, something to be shamed, condemned, ostracized, and punished.

With that, we bring you this NY Times article about a Tea Party supporter who receives a lot of government assistance (boldface mine):

Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

I don’t mean to pick on this guy–he seems to realize that the aid helps. But he shouldn’t feel ashamed either: this is what a just society is supposed to do, even if too many pejoratively call it a ‘welfare state.’ And when Gulbranson is doing better, we’ll expect him to ante up and kick in. That’s how this works, Ayn Rand be damned.

Because he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

And with that, I leave you with this musical interlude:

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3 Responses to Shame and the Tea Partier: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

  1. sethkahn says:

    We should pick on that guy, actually. I understand why you’d see it otherwise, but I’m tired of giving guys like this a free pass. You *shouldn’t* get to have it both ways. If you’re going to campaign and vote for somebody whose agenda is slash public assistance and public institutions, you shouldn’t be able to turn around and rely on those very same institutions for your own personal benefit. People’s decision to announce and fight for their political positions should have consequences.

    • I agree in large part with you, but that guy in particular struck me as beginning to work his way through his cognitive dissonance.

      • sethkahn says:

        True, and that’s very reasonable. I’m grinding the ‘lack of consequences’ axe a lot these days because it’s really one of the biggest reasons for our current morass. People make terrible decisions for bad reasons and face no consequences for the results. I’m more troubled by the fact that it happens at a high level than I am with guys like the one in this article. Even if Scott Walker (for one example) loses the recall election this November, that’s not a big problem for him. The Koch brothers, via one front or another, will simply hire him as a ‘consultant’ or some such and he’ll never have to work another day in his life.

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