Ducklings and the Conservative Ethos

I wrote this the day that the leader of the Republican party released his budget for the fiscal year 2018. I offered it to an outlet I thought would like it and they didn’t take. Since then I’ve been wondering what to do with it. However, I thought it was fitting to publish today in light of Attorney General Sessions testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For reasons.

Two weeks ago Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) tweeted the picture below captioned with the words, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it must be government waste.”


To be fair, Rep. Walker has been royally roasted for this tweet both on Twitter and in the media more generally. (Some examples here, here, and here.)

With the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, drastic cuts to Medicaid, and intermittent fears of the beginning of WWIII the ducklings story can seem like an aside, both a silly thing for a Congressman to take issue with and a sillier thing for people to engage. Yet, this duckling tweet sums up the current ethos of the Republican party perfectly.

There are several levels here. The first is that this, apparently, is the type of government waste that the GOP wants to speak out about publicly. Not the hundreds of thousands of dollars, per day, it costs taxpayers to keep the first lady and son in their Manhattan penthouse, nor the Mar-A-Lago visits, but ducklings. Setting aside, for now, the hypocrisy of how Trump and the rest of the GOP criticized Obama’s golfing as a waste but have been silent about how much Trump is costing taxpayers with these indulgences, the choice to focus on criticizing a duckling ramp is just weird. It begs the question: what’s really at issue here?

To begin answering that we need to understand why the ducklings have the ramp in the first place. According to City Wildlife, a non-profit involved in helping get those duck ramps to the Capitol reflecting pool, they are there because without them the baby ducks can’t get out of the pool and would die of exhaustion or starvation. Now, perhaps you don’t care whether or not a bunch of baby ducks die, but imagine for a moment what it would be like if they died in the reflecting pool, a place, it’s worth remembering, where our nations elected officials are supposed to be able to reflect on the nation, the duty of governance, and other weighty matters. Well, the reflecting pool would then be spotted with duckling carcasses. One of two things would happen next. The most likely thing is that someone would have to fish the dead baby ducks out of the water and dispose of them. In manpower alone, this solution would cost more than the two duck ramps. There is, of course, another possible outcome which I’ll get to in a minute. For now, let’s explore the ways in which Rep. Walker’s tweet neatly captures the dark heart of the Republican party: disdain.

What is really at issue with Rep. Walker’s tweet is the larger Republican disdain for preventative measures of any kind. It’s still true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The problem is that the Republicans are in bed with the makers of cure. This has been in evidence for years from attacks on Head Start funding to one of the biggest benefits of the ACA, proven preventative care services. Then, of course, there’s the old conservative bugaboo: food stamps and welfare. The SNAP program is consistently under attack from conservatives despite the fact that every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 of GDP. Then, of course, there are the numerous states who have passed legislation requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing to receive benefits. All those studies have shown is that welfare recipients use fewer drugs than the general population and fewer drugs than some congressmen. All of these measures are designed to prevent something whether it be illness, hunger, or abject poverty and all of them have been under attack by the GOP for years.

Then, three days ago, Trump released his proposed budget for the fiscal year 2018. Granted, the first draft of the budget is more of a wish list than a set of policy guidelines.  However, as has already been said, you can learn a lot about people from what they wish for. Let’s leave aside that this budget breaks presidential tradition and seems to be based on some very dubious math, and focus on what the budget actually does. It breaks a lot of campaign promises by cutting social security and other programs Trump said he wouldn’t cut. This, however, is to be expected as words mean nothing to Trump. This budget is so bad that the non-partisan National Priorities Project labelled it as “War on the Poor.” The lowlights include the following proposed cuts:

  • $627 billion to Medicaid
  • $195 billion to food stamps
  • $18 billion to the CDC

It’s no accident that these cuts attack not only programs that work on preventative measures but the programs that are of the most use to the the most vulnerable among us. This is because Republicans disdain the helpless almost as much as they disdain preventative care. This returns us to Rep. Walker’s tweet: what’s more helpless than a baby duck? Yet, when Walker looks at a preventative measure to help the helpless all he sees is government waste–an ethos writ large in Trump’s proposed budget.

What makes this opposition to helping the helpless, particularly through preventative care measures, absurd to the point of galling is that there are decades worth of evidence that tell us that both of these things are good moves. Some of the sources cited above already include references to the benefits of preventative care and investing in the vulnerable, but some other evidence can be found here, here, here, and here for starters.

Part of what is so perfect about Rep. Walker’s tweet is that he saw something and instead of asking why it was there, using his phone to google the rationale behind duck ramps, say; he immediately disparaged it as waste. This is evidence of the GOP’s widespread disdain for experts which seems to stem from the dangerous belief that they have nothing to learn. From their decades-long attack on higher education to charts that would embarrass a seventh-grade algebra class being used in congressional hearings to their party’s leader praising conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, it seems that everything the Republicans do is aimed at showing their flagrant disregard for experts or even truth.

So, what’s the future of the U.S. given the conservative ethos of disdain so neatly summed up by Rep. Walker’s tweet about baby ducklings? Well, let us return to the second possible outcome of a Capitol reflecting pool without duck ramps. The ducks would die and, the alternative to their carcasses being fished out by sanitation workers is for the dead ducklings to float around the reflecting pool until they do the things that dead bodies do. Namely, bloat and then release the putrid remains of liquefied duckling organs into, and I really want to emphasize this, the Capitol reflecting pool.

Hold that image in your mind for a second: a Capitol reflecting pool spotted with the decaying corpses of baby ducks and the carrion eaters that will descend on them. It’s a terrifying and terrifyingly apt image of the logical outcome of the Republican ethos now based, almost entirely, on disdain.



P.S. If that last image horrifies you please consider making a few calls with #Resist #Persist

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