When he was in office, Ronnie’s guiding principle was that the poor were poor because they lacked get-up-and-go and that if they’d just get off their asses and stop freeloading off the country they would prosper. Of course, the factory jobs that for decades had been the economic ladder by which the poor climbed out of poverty were being shipped overseas, and it’s kind of hard pulling yourself up by your bootstraps while drawing a minimum wage. But then, Ronnie was a product of the Hollywood Dream Factory, so it figures.
Ronnie’s appeal was that he was the ultimate expression of the angry white male. This is the demographic that was falling all over itself to dump decency in an attempt to ape an ethos defined by the Hollywood western, which bore little or no resemblance to the historical west. Rugged individualism is the ethos of the sociopath, and Ronnie and his gaggle of angry white males made it socially acceptable. Now this sociopathology is gaining an even greater cachet with the rise of the Tea Party.
And, of course, part of this ethos was to destroy the labor unions since they enabled workers to freeload by earning a living wage. It was a milk run for Ronnie because the American labor movement was never anti-capitalist. As Harriet Fraad points out:
Americans accepted the capitalist system in which each generation had relatively prospered. American labor fought for an increasing amount of income that would permit workers to consume more goods and services, a system in which each generation could move to jobs considered more prestigious and lucrative within the capitalists hierarchy.
Since Americans believe that there is no class but the middleclass, the working class came to believe that an above-ground pool and two cars in the garage made it middleclass. So it flocked to a Republican Party that proceeded to screw it. (It never occurred to the labor movement to call a general strike when Ronnie fired the air controllers for striking. That sent a message to our oligarchs that the union movement was on life support and that all they had to do was pull the plug, which they did.)
The death of the labor movement coincided with the death of social mobility. The ability of a man, born in a humble log cabin, to rise to a position of wealth and power also fed into Ronnie’s vision of poverty. The heroes of the Horatio Alger’s novels of young boys achieving middleclass prosperity through hard work, courage, spunk (something Alger was quite fond of) and determination were largely myth. The system was gamed from the get-go, and Ronnie could never understand why a poor person who wasn’t born into the right family, didn’t attend the right school and didn’t know whose ass to kiss couldn’t climb the economic ladder.
So, he came up with the idea to build a fire under the poor by destroying the social safety net that had kept them out of total impoverishment. At the same time, the economic ladder they were suppose to climb kept getting taller and taller as money started to rise towards the top of the pyramid.
But, this is America, where all a poor man need do is strap on his six-shooter, gun down the bad guys and ride into the sunset all the richer for his effort. And if he’s too poor to own a gun, it’s his fault and not the system’s. All he has to do work three minimum-wage jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over his head and in time, prosperity will be his, somewhere over the rainbow where “troubles melt like lemon drops.”