In the old days, work was exalted. There was a real understanding that a family of four with one or two breadwinners at or near the minimum wage, living on the edge from paycheck to paycheck, would not be able to make basic ends meet and would need some help. The EITC was the least obtrusive and bureaucratic way to do so. Now, work itself is disdained if it is not attached to the makers of wealth, but instead applies to those described as takers.
Not only does the basic problem remain - how can we as a society fulfill the social contract that if you work you will be rewarded at least with basic sustenance - but it is getting worse as fundamental income inequality grows. And what is missing from Rep. Paul Ryan's budget and its underlying philosophy is anything to replace it. Cutting taxes and cutting the pins out from under the other programs, from job training to Pell Grants, that help working families get by, without some coherent way other than just saying cut government and cut taxes is not a substitute. And beyond the huge political gaffe by Romney, this is a giant societal problem that needs at least a conservative response better than what we are getting from the candidate or his allies in Congress.
Next comes the problem of the elderly poor, many of whom are the so-called dual eligibles, on Medicaid and Medicare, often with serious disabilities. I have written before about the problems we have coordinating the two programs, how costly it is and how much we need reform. But a plan simply to cut Medicaid by 30 percent and block grant it to the states will only exacerbate these problems, and to call the disabled elderly poor leeches on society is either ignorant or cruel or some combination thereof. But it is not a solution to a sizable societal problem.
Finally, let's deal with those who are unemployed. At one level, Romney and his Congressional counterparts have evinced great empathy for the unemployed and outrage that President Barack Obama has not done more to get them jobs. But in the most serious sustained downturn since the Great Depression, one caused by a financial crisis, jobs are not easy to find, and many Americans who desperately want to work cannot find them. For them, especially as unemployment benefits wind down, keeping their homes and putting food on the table is a huge problem, and more and more are showing up at food banks (which are also struggling) and relying on food stamps. The narrow-minded blockage of the farm bill in a zealous desire to cut even more from the food stamp program is appalling. But it is the Romney mindset - food stamps are for takers and they don't deserve it - that fuels that desire.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.