That haunting song is about a guy and a girl who go on a killing spree, so I'm not suggesting the subject directly relates to 2012 politics, except maybe Gingrich-Romney. But the lyric came to mind the other day as I thought about the debate over class warfare.
I wrote Tuesday about the Corbett administration's plan to reimpose asset testing for food stamp recipients. The state Department of Public Welfare last month proposed barring low-income individuals from collecting benefits if their assets exceed levels set in 1980, although DPW — under a lot of fire — was talking about raising those levels by Wednesday.
DPW spokeswoman Anne Bale told me the administration is concerned about potential abuse of the food stamp program — more accurately known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because recipients use a debit card, not stamps — and making sure that only the neediest Pennsylvanians get these benefits. I argued that the state won't save any money, that the move bucks a national trend to drop asset testing during this recession, that communities will lose the economic benefits of that SNAP spending and that the state's fraud rate is minuscule already.
On my blog the day the column ran, I also reproduced a letter to Gov. Corbett from the local Meals on Wheels, explaining that some of their elderly clients wouldn't be able to pay for their meals if the proposed SNAP change went through.
I didn't have space in the column to explore the perception that Pennsylvania under the Corbett administration seems much more concerned about catering to big campaign contributors than it does about the rest of us, including those who have to pay school property taxes and particularly those who depend on the safety net. Critics say this is just one piece in a broader DPW effort to target those who are most in need.
Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, complained, "Every day it seems we have to stand up to these things. It's really frustrating."
Many of the claims I see about social net programs being abused seem to be motivated more by apocalyptic anecdotal accounts, some of which originated in forwarded emails about lobsters and lottery winners or in broadcast blowhards' radio and TV rants, than on any real data suggesting the system is being misused in a significant way. What I hear from the people on the front lines is that the need is real and desperate.
There's a meanness in some of these attacks, I think, an every-man-for-himself sense that it's a waste of money to help feed and support people who have lost their jobs or who just aren't making ends meet.
Gov. Corbett offered a pretty good window to his attitudes when he suggested during his gubernatorial campaign that some jobless Pennsylvanians don't want to work.
"The jobs are there," he said. "But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there."
Nor are these attitudes confined to Pennsylvania. Newt Gingrich has dubbed President Obama the Food Stamp President, incorrectly claiming that more people have joined the program under Obama than any other president. Actually, that distinction belongs to George W. Bush, but so what? The numbers grew in both administrations because the economy collapsed, not because the presidents were socialists. I would argue that when unemployment is at 8.5 percent, we should be looking to strengthen our safety net, not shred it.
I'm struck by the hypocrisy of some of the Christian politicians who seem determined to make God part of the political conversation. The Bible doesn't get much more definitive than that scene of the final judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew, where Jesus is separating the righteous from the rest and praising those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, watched over the sick. "Truly I tell you," he says, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
I'm not sure how that reconciles with bashing the poor and demonizing those who are different. Those guys must be reading a different Bible.
Religion aside, I think our country would be better off if we all embraced the idea that we're one pink slip, one disabling illness, one family crisis away from needing help ourselves — and acted accordingly.
Do we really need more meanness in this world?
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays