Democrats have unearthed new audio of Joni Ernst in 2013, in which she details rather stark views about the relationship of Americans with their government. It doesn’t rise to the level of a Mitt Romney “47 percent” moment, in which he declared nearly half the country “believe that they are victims” and that “government has a responsibility to care for them.”
But in the new audio, Ernst dabbles in 47 percenter-ism, and it sheds light on the philosophical worldview of the woman who stands a better-than-even chance of becoming the new Senator from Iowa.
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.”
The audio was recorded by Radio Iowa, which didn’t highlight the key remarks at the time; the Iowa Democratic Party has only just come across those remarks now, and circulated them to reporters today.
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. And then she waxed philosophical:
“What we have to do a better job of is educating not only Iowans, but the American people that they can be self-sufficient. They don’t have to rely on the government to be the do-all, end-all for everything they need and desire, and that’s what we have fostered, is really a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them. It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that. So do we have the intestinal fortitude to do that?…
“We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in 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.”
This helps bring coherence and clarity to a number of Ernst’s more draconian policy positions, evasions, and outsized statements. Ernst has come out for eliminating the federal Department of Education, has expressed openness to privatizing Social Security, and supports repealing Obamacare, but has refused to clarify whether she would roll back Iowans’ benefits under the state’s Medicaid expansion. And yet, Ernst has also claimed Medicaid recipients “have no responsibility for their health.”
If Ernst really thinks a whole generation of Americans is addicted to government to the degree she suggests, the ideology under-girding her policy positions and views comes into focus a bit more. Of course, she understands her actual goals would be “very painful” to a lot of people, which makes it politically harder to level with voters about them (hence the evasions on the Medicaid expansion).
To be sure, Ernst’s remarks don’t starkly divide the American people into “makers” and “takers,” as Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comments seemed to do, a frame Paul Ryan has explicitly articulated. Nor do they have quite the sneering tone of Ryan’s suggestion that the safety net is at risk of becoming a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” But they still constitute a highly exaggerated and somewhat dismissive depiction of people who rely on the government in one fashion or another. And her quaint evocation of “food pantries” and “much of what our churches and private organizations used to do” smacks of the sort of pre-New-Deal-consensus nostalgia you sometimes hear on the right.
In a funny way, the comments also give new meaning to the now-infamous ad that launched Ernst’s journey towards the Senate. In it, she claimed she “grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” She added that she would make Washington’s big spenders “squeal.” No wonder she suggests in the new audio that her planned reforms will be “very painful” for people!
I’m joking, but really, Ernst is quite explicit about what she thinks a GOP Senate majority should set about accomplishing.
Iowa Democrats are blasting the comments as proof that Ernst’s “plans for Iowa families” are “going to be very painful, and she knows it.” I don’t know if this audio will prove politically problematic for Ernst with the midterm electorate that will decide these Senate races if Republicans get their way. It’s unclear whether Democrat Bruce Braley or national Democrats will hit her over the comments. But either way, they help illuminate Ernst’s actual views, which she and Republicans have worked hard to conceal.
UPDATE: Post edited slightly for clarity.