In last night’s debate in Iowa, Senate hopeful Joni Ernst (R) made two observations that connect in an important way. The right-wing state senator argued in support of a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced federal budget, before adding that she wouldn’t raise any tax under any circumstance.
Whether the Republican Senate hopeful understands this or not, the practical implications of these two positions are extraordinary: Ernst would effectively be required, under her own misguided constitutional mandate, to dismantle most of the federal government.
Then again, from Ernst’s perspective, that may very well be a feature of her plan, not a bug. Greg Sargent reported yesterday on a newly uncovered 2013 speech in which Ernst details her “rather stark views about the relationship of Americans with their government.”
In it, Ernst claims that we have created “a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them,” and that wrenching them away from their dependence “is going to be very painful.” […]In the audio, Ernst came out for a balanced budget amendment, said that would require “severe cuts,” reiterated her desire to eliminate the Department of Education, vowed a “good, hard look at entitlement programs,” and said electing a GOP Senate majority would be a key step towards all of this. She also said we are “encouraging people” to get on food stamps.
Though the far-right Iowan wasn’t quite as explicit as Mitt Romney was in his infamous “47 percent” video, the parallels matter. Ernst, in Romney-esque terms, complains that “a generation” of Americans “rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.” She vows to rectify this in a “very painful” way, presumably with the most acute pain imposed on those who can afford the least.
It is the very height of anti-populism – the Republican U.S. Senate candidate is convinced that families already struggling to get by simply have it too easy, with the public sector lavishing expansive benefits on them. For those who are just barely keeping their heads above water, relying on America’s safety net to survive, the right-wing Iowan has a bleak and punitive message to offer: you’ve had it too easy for too long, and Joni Ernst has a “very painful” future in store.
If struggling families in Iowa turned out in significant numbers this year, Ernst would be facing a landslide defeat.
What’s more, the GOP candidate’s message on health care was just as striking.
Remember, the remarks Sargent flagged were delivered last year, before millions of Americans gained access to medical care under the Affordable Care Act. It led Ernst to note it will be “exponentially harder” to destroy American’s health security once these benefits are in place – though she hopes to do just that anyway.
Ernst added„ in reference to the ACA “[I]n the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”
Again, this is a worldview built on a bizarre foundation: Ernst seriously believes the poor have it easy because the public sector is too generous. And specifically on the issue of access to affordable medical care, Jon Chait added that Ernst’s comments help highlight “the fundamental belief that motivates most, if not all, the conservative opposition: Health care should be a privilege rather than a right. If you can’t afford health insurance on your own, that is not the government’s problem.”
My impression is that much of the Iowa media is impressed with Ernst’s personality, to the point that her over-the-top extremism, ridiculous conspiracy theories, policy ignorance, and twisted worldview aren’t supposed to matter too much. But it seems with each passing day, it seems the public is learning a little more about the extremist state senator, and the emerging picture reveals the most radical Senate candidate of 2014.