When the “family values”-loving Mark Sanford (R-SC) won back his former seat in the House of Representatives after lying to his constituents, betraying his wife and then trespassing on that now-ex-wife’s home, many observers reminded us that evangelical Christians love a redemption narrative.
A core part of the fiery breed of God-fearingness shared by many on the far right is a belief in a “repentance for sin, being able to start anew, start afresh,” said Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University.
And as we debate whether now-New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner — who never actually left his wife — will be forgiven by Big Apple voters the way Mark Sanford was forgiven by South Carolina’s 1st district, we often forget to include in the discussion American’s foremost forgiven sinner — a man who cast aside all aspersions of scandal and continues to serve in the Senate as if he had never besmirched his own name: David Vitter (R-LA).
In 2007, Vitter — a leading advocate of banning same-sex marriage and opening public meetings with prayers — admitted that he was a client of D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfre. But he denied — nay, rebutted! — allegations that he’d also visited prostitutes in New Orleans. Then he said he was going to continue doing his important work in the Senate, despite the fact that much of America now knew that this law-breaking, cheating husband probably had a diaper fetish.
Vitter was easily re-elected in 2010 after running a campaign typified by what may be the most blatantly racist ad ever run by a member of the U.S. Congress:
(Who would dare welcome and feed the brown-skinned poor? You could get crucified for that.)
Since his re-election, the senator has mostly kept his head down except to verbally defecate on immigration reform, continue his generally corrupt ways and to take on the big banks — an issue so desperately in need of Republican support that even I was even willing to drop the diaper jokes.
But this week, Vitter revealed his real fetish with an amendment to this year’s farm bill that would ban certain convicts from SNAP, aka food-stamp benefits, for life. As David Dayen points out, “Cannily, the crime of soliciting prostitutes is exempted from this ban.”
Targeting violent felons with lifelong punishment is the kind of thing no politician can vote against without fearing an ad that screams, “MARK PRYOR VOTED TO GIVE CONVICTED PEDOPHILE RAPIST MURDERERS FOOD STAMPS!”
“Some people say these are unsavory crimes, and I agree,” said Bob Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Dayen. “But there’s a broader principle here. Suppose you did something terrible when you were 19, and you were straight the rest of your life, you paid your debt to society, now you’re 82 and living in poverty, should you be stripped of food stamps? Is this the right thing to do?”
“It doesn’t save anyone any money,” Timothy Smeeding, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, told MSNBC. “It just makes sort of a political statement that we don’t forgive people for crimes once they pay their dues. We’re just going to punish them forever.”
Forget about the idiocy of encouraging recidivism by forcing those who already have little chance of finding work to starve. What about redemption? Forgiveness?
Vitter’s amendment — which was unanimously accepted by the Senate — would punish both the ex-convicts and their families for the rest of their lives. And who would be most likely to be afflicted by such a law?
Here we get to the core of Vitter’s perversion. There’s only one sin those on the far right cannot forgive you for: being born poor.
The hostility to “food stamps,” the fictional “Obamaphone” — which Vitter also filed an amendment against — and Medicaid expansion all have one thing in common: the belief that “the poor” are ripping us off, bankrupting this country and would be better off if the government gave them nothing.
To believe this, you not only have to disregard much of what Jesus actually taught, but you have to ignore the sad fact that the best predictor of a child’s success in school is his or her parents’ wealth and education. You also have ignore the untold billions taxpayers spend subsidizing the richest, who argue with straight faces that capping IRAs at $3 million will somehow discourage saving.
Riddle me this: why is “propensity to quote New Testament” positively correlated with “advocating anti-poor policies?”
— Squarely Rooted (@squarelyrooted) May 25, 2013
The war on the poor or “excess Americans” — as the creator of The Wire David Simon calls them — is as sickening as it is convenient.
“We do not need 10-12 percent of our population; they’ve been abandoned,” Simon recently said. “They don’t have barbed wire around them, but they might as well.”
They can be abandoned, punished for life, encouraged to recommit acts that drive them back to prison, where they can actually make some money for a private corporation. But they cannot be forgiven. That right, that sacrament, is reserved for those who wear suits and ties during the day and diapers in the evening.