Brittany vs. Julia

I have spent a lot of time around people with Down Syndrome. My mother is a teacher who specializes in teaching children with special needs, my sister has gone down that route, too, and I used to volunteer at the centers in which they teach. As Brittany says, she is “unable to take responsibility” for her life. (Or, at least, full responsibility. Her letter shows that she’s rather admirable.) Fair enough. But outside of the most feverishly conceived cartoon conservatives, who exactly resents this fact? America enjoys a bipartisan agreement that children, elderly people, and the disabled should be protected — and that government has a role to play in that care. The implication that Brittany is akin to those who are dependent on government by choice, habit, or design should be rejected with extreme prejudice — not least for Brittany’s sake. Suffice it to say that whatever point Romney was trying to make with his “47 percent” line, it was not that the state should cut off people with disabilities.

Now, there is a key disagreement in this country as to how people who are able to help themselves should be treated. Democrats and Republicans have starkly different attitudes toward both the efficacy of government welfare and the role of civil society in solving social problems and, if anything, the two parties are moving further apart from one another. Regardless of where one comes down on that debate, however, there is a world — a universe, perhaps — of difference between Brittany and Julia, the Obama campaign’s bizarre vision for the life of an American everywoman who is helped by Washington at every step of her development. It is the difference, as my colleague Dan Foster aptly puts it, between a cradle to grave welfare state and a cradle and grave welfare state. Conservatives are fine with the latter, and not with the former. …

To buy the Obama campaign’s implication, you have to believe that conservatives are sitting at home reading that and saying, “Why, what a scrounger!” One suspects that such a belief is vital to the self-image of liberals, who would have a hard time placing themselves on the moral spectrum were they to be deprived of the conceit that Republicans are scheming to murder the poor and throw the disabled and elderly out onto the cold streets. Still, at the risk of collapsing some worldviews: It’s not true.