The geographic center of the country is in Kansas. If memory serves me correctly, it’s the town of Lebanon, Kansas.
If Kansas is the moral center of our country as well, we’re closer to the end than even I would have thought.
Will we follow Kansas down its depraved path?
In its latest move, the Kansas legislature passed a bill, signed by Governor Sam Brownback, to limit ATM withdrawals by TANF (that is, welfare) recipients to $25 per day.
Both the depravity and sanctimony associated with this screams out to any thinking person. There is the obvious corruption: More frequent withdrawals means more ATM fees to giant banks and fewer dollars of real help to the needy TANF beneficiaries. And there’s the rank intellectual dishonesty of setting the limit at $25 per day, with full knowledge that it will function as a $20 per day limit, since ATMs don’t dispense five dollar bills.
But I submit those are minor matters in the scheme of things. This general sleaziness pales in comparison to the sanctimony associated with the measure, and the potential for where that sanctimony could be leading us. These Kansas legislators essentially decided that TANF beneficiaries must spend their assistance monies evenly. Who the hell were they to make that judgment? Do they spend their own monies evenly? I doubt it. I know I don’t. I go days at a time without spending a dime, then will spend hundreds or more in one swoop. And why should evenly paced spending be exalted?
It would be tempting to blame only Brownback or Kansas’ legislators, but that doesn’t cut it. Kansas’ voters re-elected this group. Implicitly, they signed on for this, as it is a mere extension of what occurred during Brownback’s first term.
By all appearances, Kansas has reached a collective moral bankruptcy.
And this follows a spectacular financial bankruptcy that Kansans inflicted on themselves by electing, then re-electing, Brownback. The BlueMeanie has written about this often, most recently in Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona and its schools.
So, what about the rest of us? Is Kansas leading us to financial and moral hell, or is it an anomaly?
I’d argue we’ve all headed down the path, and Kansas is just steps ahead. Here’s why:
The first step down the path is an elevation of “personal responsibility” over societal responsibility. We took that step, collectively, long ago, with measures such as the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, on which Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich collaborated. Whenever a state legislature or Congress decides to cut assistance to the needy in order to save money, often to offset revenue lost from tax cuts, the measure is justified on the basis of personal responsibility.
Accompanying the elevation of personal responsibility, of course, are tales of personal irresponsibility. They don’t tell these tales only in Kansas. We all hear them. You know, the food stamp recipient who buys chips and soda. Or poor people who dare to own such supposed luxury items as television sets and cell phones. Thucky used to harp on this. So does Bill O’Reilly. Worse yet, some of those poor people drink beer. Imagine that!
The personal responsibility mentality manifests itself in so-called sin taxes, levies on items such as cigarettes and alcohol. At one level, sin taxes make sense, because they do serve as a deterrent, especially to youth. But when they are used as easy revenue fixes, under the implicit rationale that it’s okay to sock it to smokers because they shouldn’t be spending their money that way anyhow, the line separating socially conscious lawmaking and sanctimony has been crossed.
So, what really distinguishes the rest of us from Kansas? Very little, I think. Once personal responsibility dominates the discourse and stories of personal irresponsibility run rampant, we’ve reached the point where those of us in power, and their supporters, see themselves as morally better than those whom they’ve labeled as irresponsible. At that point, setting rules for the behavior of those perceived as something less than the rest of us is a baby step. Kansas may be the first to take that baby step. I can’t see it being the last.
Worse yet, setting daily spending limits may be mild compared to other measures that tend to become law when those making the laws place themselves on a higher moral ground than those to whom the laws are applied. After all, those Kansas legislators decided it was okay to use their power to modify the behavior of others, far beyond the behavior modification associated with criminal statutes. If it’s okay to regulate a person’s spending habits, would it also be okay to regulate her other habits? And if she fails to obey the regulations, would it be okay to introduce punitive measures to ensure she does so in the future?
What happened in Kansas should be seen as a dangerous signal.
And not just in Kansas.