I enjoyed reading Ramesh’s take on the “makers and takers” debate, but the fact that seniors tend to vote Republican doesn’t diminish the political power of dependency. First, older voters tend to be much wealthier than younger voters, rendering them not dependent on the government in the same way that poor Americans are. For millions of seniors the Social Security check is just not as important to the bottom line as welfare benefits are for poor Americans. Second, and more important, both parties have long pledged to maintain or even expand (see, for example, Bush’s prescription-drug benefit) Social Security and Medicare for current seniors. Even though millions of seniors aren’t even “dependent” on Social Security and Medicare, the power of those benefits is such that “mediscare” tactics have long been effective in American politics. In other words, Republicans tend to maintain or expand their edge with current seniors only so long as current Social Security and Medicare are essentially off the table. Does anyone realistically think that Republicans would maintain their edge with seniors if they took aim at current benefits?
Social Security and Medicare demonstrate the incredible power of government benefits to adjust the parameters of public debate. We face trillion-dollar annual deficits, are considering significant cuts in discretionary spending, including defense spending (while at war, no less), yet there is not a single politically credible proposal on the table that would cut current Medicare or Social Security benefits.
Expanding the view from seniors, it’s quite clear that the poorest Americans — those who can truly be described as “dependent” on government programs — have voted Democratic for some time, with margins increasing as income decreases.
While Governor Romney’s point was crudely stated (for example, “dependency” and not paying income taxes are not synonymous, and I don’t think we are yet at the point where 47 percent of Americans are truly dependent on the government), it is difficult to find any significant examples of a constituency voting to shed its own benefits. Granting benefits tends to narrow the political options, putting parties in the position of either defending those benefits or alienating the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are quite loyal to their government benefactors.
(Note: I’m the co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt)