National anger at corruption and incompetence in Washington centers increasingly on a peculiar, profoundly maddening quirk of the Obama administration: its consistent, irrational impulse to reward bad behavior and to punish constructive conduct.
The now powerful Tea Party movement began with an on-air rant in February, 2009 by Rick Santelli of CNBC, who complained of a costly new program to protect homeowners who had recklessly committed themselves to unaffordable mortgages; he suggested a “Chicago Tea Party” as a means of protest. Despite the indignation Santelli ignited, various Obama programs continue to tax Americans who’ve never missed a mortgage and send the money to rescue or subsidize their neighbors who made risky, irresponsible decisions at the height of the housing bubble. In a similar spirit, the Obamacare health reforms will provide subsidized insurance or Medicaid benefits for millions of families who previously declined to insure themselves, while bringing higher taxes and rising premiums to those who previously sacrificed to pay for their own protection.
The immigration issue provokes explosive rage because of the same sense that government plans to reward those who entered the country illegally, giving them special advantages over law-abiding newcomers who patiently played by the rules. For most people, the underlying problem isn’t the immigrants themselves, but the fear that Washington’s misguided compassion will encourage more unauthorized new arrivals. A revealing CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in May found overwhelming support for Arizona’s tough immigration law, with 71% of respondents who want “more crackdowns on employers who hire illegal immigrants.” At the same time, a startling 80% say they would back a program “to allow illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to stay here and apply for legal residency if they had a job and paid back taxes.” In other words, the public objects to rewarding bad conduct but shows overwhelming support for policies that bestow benefits for a constructive course of action.