Is there a more enduring image in rightwing mythology than the welfare queen driving her Cadillac?
No doubt some louts game the system, but our elected elite all-too-often cite the exceptions as the rule -- a cynical game of divide and conquer that's all about political power.
Help thy neighbor? Hell, no. I worked for mine, you work for yours -- or you get what you deserve. Somewhere Marie Antoinette is smiling.
Especially when she glimpses Oklahoma.
The knuckle-draggers in the Legislature clearly view welfare recipients as a bunch of weak, shiftless, cracked-out meth-heads who see no reason to come to Jesus when Uncle Sugar serves as their supreme enabler.
So here comes Reps. John Bennett, Guy Liebmann and Co. with plans to tighten the screws on that no-account food stamp crowd -- make 'em pee in a cup first and deny them benefits if they test positive.
There is scant evidence to suggest those needing public assistance abuse illicit narcotics in higher percentages than the general population.
But, no, these yahoos prefer to play a taxpayer-financed game of monkey-see, monkey-do -- Oklahoma now is one of about three-dozen states in which Republicans are pressing such proposals, hoping it will propel a rabid, redneck fringe to the polls in 2012.
"If we as taxpayers are basically employing the recipients of welfare, the taxpayers should have a guarantee their money is not being abused by the recipient," said Liebmann, an Oklahoma City Republican. "Taxpayer money should not subsidize someone's drug habit."
Fine, then let me offer a modest counter-proposal: If we're going to mandate drug-testing for recipients of state aid, how about we expand it to include all members of the Legislature and all statewide elected officials?
They're getting money from the taxpayers, too. Shouldn't we expect our elected officials to be just as clean as welfare recipients?
I bet most Oklahomans would agree -- but don't hold your breath it would ever be seriously considered.
Let me be clear: I'm not aware of any elected state officials with substance abuse problems, though I will say I've seen some conduct that made me wonder.
It just stands to reason that if some of the general population is wrestling with addiction, similar percentages of our 149 lawmakers and statewide elected officials are, too.
Surely not, you say. Aren't these supposed to be Oklahoma's elite? Yes, some can indeed be counted among the state's best and brightest. But not all. As my father used to say, these folks put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you and I.
In other words, they're human -- with all the good and bad that implies.
And among the bad is a proclivity toward adopting the Hypocrite's Oath -- do as I say, not as I do -- which is particularly appalling when wrapped in sanctimony and demagoguery.
Example: Bennett insists that drug-testing state aid recipients could save the cash-strapped Oklahoma treasury substantial sums of money -- a positive test, of course, means you don't have to give these tax-suckers anything.
He holds up Florida as the shining example of how to ensure these chiselers are kept in check, claiming Sunshine State taxpayers saved nearly $1 million in the first two months after they implemented the program -- which requires applicants to pay for their own drug tests.
"Last year when I filed this bill as a freshman lawmaker, we were told that the Department of Human Services stood to lose federal money if we imposed drug testing at the state level," said Bennett, R-Sallisaw.
"Officials in Florida weren't as timid and it is clear the program has been a huge success in just its first two months. As a result, we will try to advance this common-sense reform in Oklahoma again during the 2012 session."
Actually, federal rules permit drug testing as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families black grant, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures -- so over 20 states proposed such a requirement in 2009 alone.
In addition, Bennett's deifying of Florida doesn't hold water, either. Though drug-testing proponents in Oklahoma assert that Florida taxpayers saved nearly $1 million in the first month of implementation, the reality is far different.
According to the Tampa Tribune, only two percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests in the first month or so after the requirement took effect July 1 -- leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the $30 cost of the drug tests to the 96 percent of recipients who passed them (two percent did not take the tests).
Assuming 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the newspaper reported, the state would reimburse between $28,800 and $43,200 per month to those who test drug-free. In denying benefits to those who test positive, the state will save between $3,400 and $5,000 per month -- or about $40,800 to $60,000 annually from a program that will cost Florida $178 million this fiscal year.
Here's something else the drug-testing proponents -- all of them anti-Nanny State, keep the government out of my business Republicans -- ought to consider: Must Oklahomans check their civil liberties at the door if misfortune strikes and they are forced to turn to the taxpayers for help?
Whatever happened to the notion of probable cause? The police are supposed to have a legitimate reason to stop you. They aren't supposed to be able to just pull you over and search for something to slap you with.
Just look at the public assistance data for our state: In the past three years, the number of people receiving food stamps has jumped 46 percent -- from 415,000 in 2008 to more than 600,000 now.
There can be no doubt that many of those added to the welfare roles are hard-working, honest folks who are casualties of the worst economic hard times since the Great Depression.
Why should these folks -- the vast majority of whom are seeking a hand-up, not a hand-out -- automatically suffer the indignity of a drug test (the cost of which would be deducted from their first month's benefits)?
Those who support this proposed mandate insist it's no different than what is required of many who are hired into new jobs. If you apply that logic, then there is no reason not to drug test our state lawmakers and statewide elected officials.
It'll never happen, of course. Far too many of our legislators understand neither irony nor hypocrisy.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
Share this article: