It's not often that you see Paul Krugman begin a column with praise for a Republican, but in his latest column for the New York Times, that's just what the award-winning economist and best-selling author does, celebrating Ohio Gov. John Kasich's decision to circumvent his own party and expand Medicaid in his state.
What Kasich is fighting against within his own party, Krugman believes, is the mind-set that's caused the GOP to wage a "war on the poor," whom they see as shiftless and lazy. "Republican hostility toward the poor and unfortunate has now reached such a fever pitch," Krugman writes, "that the party doesn’t really stand for anything else."
So what’s this all about? One reason, the sociologist Daniel Little suggested in a recent essay, is market ideology: If the market is always right, then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor. I’d add that some leading Republicans are, in their minds, acting out adolescent libertarian fantasies. “It’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” declared Paul Ryan in 2009.
But there’s also, as Mr. Little says, the stain that won’t go away: race.
In a much-cited recent memo, Democracy Corps, a Democratic-leaning public opinion research organization, reported on the results of focus groups held with members of various Republican factions. They found the Republican base “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority” — and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps Those People, not people like themselves, and binds the rising nonwhite population to the Democratic Party. And, yes, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.
So there is indeed a war on the poor, coinciding with and deepening the pain from a troubled economy. And that war is now the central, defining issue of American politics.