The Andre Bauer Affair: Class Warfare and the Allegory of Elephants and Asses

The moral outrage that initially greeted the recent remarks by South Carolina's LT Governor Andre Bauer, in which the Republican gubernatorial candidate effectively compared families on government assistance with stray animals, has now given way to more nuanced political considerations. If you recall, at a town hall meeting in late January, Bauer related a childhood memory to illustrate a point about the "culture of dependency":
My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better.
Like so many of his fellow Republican and Democratic politicians caught in similar situations, Bauer defended himself by saying that his comments were "taken out of context." As reported by WSOC TV:
South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer defended the controversial comments he made about government assistance programs. He compared giving out government assistance to feeding stray animals. Bauer said his metaphor was taken out of context. He said it’s important that welfare doesn’t breed a culture of dependency.
At the Columbia Free Times, Corey Hutchins wonders whether the comments will help or hurt Bauer's effort in the Republican gubernatorial primary:
Is it possible that by not completely backing off his statements, Bauer could actually score points at the polls in the Republican primary on June 10? Retired Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen says maybe so. Because the voters in GOP primary elections in South Carolina tend to be very conservative, Thigpen believes Bauer’s stance could solidify support for him from those who share his views, much like U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson drew renewed support after shouting down President Obama. “My guess is there would be a lot of people who agree with him and it might be beneficial to him,” Thigpen says.
Indeed, it is not especially difficult to find commentary more or less in support of Bauer. In a letter to the editor of the Independent Mail, one reader writes that "Bauer Struck a Nerve":
The truth is always very hard for people to deal with, This is clearly the case regarding Andre Bauer’s comments. True, the choice of words could have been better, but the message is 100 percent on target. South Carolina has too many people dependent on the system. This costs taxpayers like my wife and myself plenty every year . . . The working people of South Carolina, the ones lucky enough to have jobs, cannot afford to keep handing out money to freeloaders.
In this response to Bauer's stated position, we see the political limit of the moral argument against his explicit statements, which can simply be brushed off by admitting to a poor choice of words, or by asserting, perhaps with some justification, that his comments were taken out of context. But effective political critique requires effective contextualization. A progressive with a sense of irony or a libertarian with a sense of principle might thus criticize the Lieutenant Governor for his willingness to engage in open class warfare against the poor even as his state provides massive welfare subsidies to multi-national corporations such as BMW and Boeing, and unabashedly feeds at the trough of the federal government: South Carolina is a free-loader state, which receives more money in federal tax dollars than it pays in federal taxes.

Further, should we not heed Bauer's grandmother's advice in partisan political terms as well? The stray animals of our political order are, of course, not mangy cats and dogs, but rather the elephants and asses of the Republican and Democratic Parties, whose lust for power leaves no house or home un-scavenged. Quit feeding these animals: because they breed. So long as they have a steady food supply, as measured in dollars donated and votes cast, they will continue to reproduce, especially those of them that don't think much further than the next election. We, the people, have to curtail this behavior because they don't know any better.

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