Episode 68: The History of the Presidential Cabinet

Podcast

The members of Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet are regular features of the 24-hour news cycle. He has fired members of his cabinet who challenge his thinking on a host of foreign and domestic issues. Just ask Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Jeff Sessions. But how did our first president, George Washington, imagine the role of the cabinet? In this episode, we think historically about this important part of the executive branch with historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?e=ADL7730217358

Chervinsky

William Penn on Good Government

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Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them are ruined too: wherefore governments rather depend on men, than men upon governments . Let men be good, and the government can’t be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good; they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

I know some say, let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them. But let them consider, that though good laws do well, good men do better…

The Frame of the Government of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, 1682

HT: John Daly of Santa Barbara, California via “The Commons” section of the June 2020 issue of The Atlantic.

When the Churches Can’t Provide the Social Safety Net That We Need

a3062-nodepressioninheavenIn the midst of our current pandemic, several historian friends have been referencing Alison Collis Greene‘s book No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene’s book shows, among other things, that sometimes the good work of local churches in times of economic and social crises is just not enough.  Sometimes we need the government.

Over at The Baffler, Rachel Bryan, a doctoral student in literature at the University of Tennessee, reflects on Greene’s book in the context of her own experience growing-up in the South.  Here is a taste:

IN 2005, MY FAMILY HOME BURNED DOWN. It was an old Sears Roebuck Victorian that my parents spent over twenty years remodeling a bit at a time. The fire happened in June in Alabama; I was asleep in my older sister’s bedroom while she was at the beach because she had an air conditioner in her room, and I didn’t in mine. I slept in her bed whenever I could, which saved my life when the fire started in an outlet in my room. Later that year, Hurricane Katrina came through and flooded what was left of the house’s ground level. We had insurance and were able to eventually rebuild, after a stint in a house with possums in the attic, but I remember the stifling silence of our small town’s churches during those years. Our own church was microscopic, with a few families and older people who could only offer the shirts off their backs—and many did. But I knew then, without question, that churches weren’t a social safety net. If we needed help, the church wouldn’t be the provider.

Those memories came back to me recently when, for a Southern history seminar, I read Alison Collis Greene’s 2015 study No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene tells the story behind what she calls “the myth of the redemptive depression.” There is some truth to the myth, she notes in her opening. “Members of families and communities indeed turned to one another in their hardship, and many also turned to their churches for solace, for support, for meaning.” Yet in the Mississippi Delta, people quickly saw “the inadequacy of families, communities, and churches full of poor people to aid one another in their time of mutual distress. The Great Depression gave lie to the toxic notion that responsibility for poverty lies with the poor rather than with systems of oppression that make a mockery of the American dream.” With a global pandemic and economic recession—if not full-scale depression—looming, Greene’s study of religious charity and political power speaks to life and death concerns in the nation’s most vulnerable regions—and sheds light on what we’re all about to face.

And this:

Later, Greene’s book turns to the reshaping of American national memory—specifically, how the New Right emerged after World War II to rewrite the narrative of the church’s failures during the Depression, and how the church further aligned with the nation’s commitment to capitalist industry in the late twentieth century. The new story encouraged resistance to socialized poverty initiatives, and it framed the state as having gotten in the way of effective church charity

In these rosy new narratives, the Great Depression brought suffering and sorrow, but also thrift and humility. It did precisely what religious authorities had hoped it would: it stripped away life’s superfluities and brought people together, and to God. The Great Depression brought redemption—or it would have, if only Franklin Roosevelt had not interfered.

That’s the redemptive myth, and it fortified the falsehood that governmental assistance was unnecessary, and even harmful to individual initiative and religious charity. This history is important for Southern communities today, especially in places where churches are taking tithes online but will go on to offer no direct relief aid to their congregations. And communities will continue to send their prayers, find social solace in their church communities, and listen to sermons about their communities coming together, all while these churches have no loaves and fishes to spare.

Read the entire piece here.

David Blight: “And the many need government”

FDR 2

One of our finest American historians, Yale’s David Blight, reminds us that Americans have always relied on the government in times of crisis.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

In August 1861, several months after the secession of 11 southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass declared that “nations seldom listen to advice from individuals, however reasonable. They are taught less by theories than by facts and events.”

The United States is currently being educated by facts and events. And, as in other times of crisis—war, economic collapse, natural disasters—even those who do not like government are realizing that they need it. Government can protect them; it might save their life and livelihood. Irony will not die in the time of the coronavirus; even many of those who believe the federal government should not intervene in society except for national defense, and would happily privatize most elements of public life, are now straining to have government save society. With this issue, we have a long history.

The times that “try men’s souls,” in Thomas Paine’s phrase, are usually those that test our fundamental ideas and values, or challenge the nations and societies by which we organize ourselves. The coronavirus pandemic is challenging America’s political leaders at all levels, and advocates are pressing them to use their powers in ways that have little recent precedent. It also poses broader questions: What do the people of this republic owe their governments, and what do governments owe their people? For 230 years this has been one of the most significant and fiercely contested questions in our polity. We are now asking it during every waking hour.

It may seem quaint, but for answers, we could take time to read some history. Some events, usually unanticipated, cause seismic breaks in time. Two such prior crises, when leaders were challenged to preserve and reimagine the America they had inherited, offer particularly relevant lessons. In 1854, the year Abraham Lincoln burst out of political quietude to oppose the expansion of slavery, he said this: “The legitimate object of government is to do for the community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves—in their separate and individual capacities.” That Lincoln quote became a favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, as he moved toward a bold and experimental use of government to save the American economy in the 1930s.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical: “God is not necessarily an open borders guy”

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Robert Jeffress says that Christians who support DACA (including the signers of this letter and Pope Francis) err on the side of compassion.  The court evangelical who is often found standing at the immediate right hand of the POTUS claims that God is not an “open borders” guy.

In this Fox News interview, Jeffress says that Christians are “confused about the difference between the church and government.”  For Jeffress, “government’s real responsibility is to protect its citizens.”

The interviewer, Ainsley Earhardt, concludes the interview by saying, “It’s tough because the Bible does tell us to honor our authorities, to follow the rule of law, to follow all of the laws–and the laws are clear in this situation–but also have compassion for others. So it is a tough topic.”  Jeffress responds with a hearty “yes” to this statement.

Though Jeffress does not mention it in this interview, his idea of government seems to arise from his interpretation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 13.  Here is the pertinent part of that chapter:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Does anyone know where I can find a book or article or sermon where Jeffress develops his theory of government or interprets Romans 13?  Every time he mentions this text he sounds like he is an 18th-century Loyalist invoking Romans 13 in opposition to the American Revolution.  I wonder if Jeffress would go so far to say that the American Revolution–a rebellion against the God-ordained governing authorities of England–would have been carried out in violation of this biblical principle.  I wonder if he would agree, for example, with evangelical pastor John MacArthur‘s conclusion that “the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers.”  Somehow I don’t think he does.

Garrison Keillor: “How is being struck by a hurricane so different from being hit by cancer?”

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In his weekly column, Garrison Keillor wonders what happens when conservatives who don’t like big government need the help of big government.  It’s an entertaining critique of Texas conservatives.

Here is a taste:

I’m all in favor of pouring money into Texas but I am a bleeding-heart liberal who favors single-payer health care. How is being struck by a hurricane so different from being hit by cancer? I’m only asking.

Houstonians chose to settle on a swampy flood plain barely 50 feet above sea level. The risks of doing so are fairly clear. If you chose to live in a tree and the branch your hammock was attached to fell down, you wouldn’t ask for a government subsidy to hang your hammock in a different tree.

Ronald Reagan said that government isn’t the answer, it is the problem, and conservatives have found that line very resonant over the years. In Sen. Cruz’s run for president last year, he called for abolition of the IRS. He did not mention this last week. It would be hard to raise an extra $150 billion without the progressive income tax unless you could persuade Mexico to foot the bill…

I was brought up by fundamentalists who believed it was dead wrong to get tangled up in politics. They never voted. Our preachers had no time for that. They knew that we were pilgrims and wayfarers in this world, and we shouldn’t expect favors from the powerful. We were redeemed by unfathomable grace and preserved by God’s mercy and our citizenship was in heaven. We looked to the Lord to supply our needs.

This has changed and godly Republicans now believe in the power of the government to change the world in their favor, of the Department of Education to channel public money freely to religious schools, of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and prohibit Joshua from marrying Jehoshaphat.

Conservatives blanch at spending additional billions to subsidize health care for the needy, but a truckload of cash for Texas? No problem…

Read the entire piece here.

Education or Indoctrination?

This story is a week or two old at this point, but I just came across the summer reading list for Gene Ponder’s AP Government class at Spanish Fort High School in Baldwin County, Alabama:

Conservative Reading List

What shocks me the most about this story is that Eddie Tyler, the Baldwin County School Superintendent, said his decision to pull the reading list had nothing to do with its conservative content.  Apparently Ponder did not submit the list for vetting and approval before giving it to students.

If this is true, there is some serious educational malpractice going on in Baldwin County, Alabama.  This list represents an attempt to indoctrinate students in a certain brand of conservative politics.

Frankly, this list would work very well in a college or graduate course on conservative politics in America.  If I were teaching this course I would assign most of the books on the list as primary sources.

Will the Church Show Up in the Age of Trump?

Budget

I recently heard Senator John McCain say that Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal, amply titled “America First: A Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” will be dead on arrival in the Senate.

But what if Trump’s budget, which cuts over $1 trillion in safety net programs, did go into effect?  Marv Knox, the editor of The Baptist Standard, is interested in this question.

Here is a taste of his recent editorial:

Three scenarios

Christians who touted their faith as a reason for backing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign have put God on trial, with two ways to win and one way to lose.

Win Scenario 1: Trump is correct, and his budget works.

His plan doesn’t merely balance the budget, but also wildly stimulates the economy, brings coal back in vogue, reopens industrial jobs and ensures near-zero unemployment with good-paying jobs. People don’t need a safety net, because they’re getting by on their own.

Beyond that, they feel better about themselves—“great,” even—because they’re working and making their way. Christians helped Trump win; life is good; God is great.

Win Scenario 2: Trump is not correct, but the church saves the day.

The federal safety net shreds, but the church shows up on time. Christian benevolences of all kinds flourish. The church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, houses the homeless. Christians provide so much money to their hospitals and health clinics, even people who cannot afford insurance can receive highly specialized and expensive cancer treatment, surgery and every other medical need.

Christians sacrificed to take care of others, who thrived because of their loving benevolence. God gets the glory for their gracious spirits. America experiences a revival it has not seen in many generations.

Lose Scenario 1: Trump is not correct, and the church fails to show up.

The federal safety shreds, just as the president has planned. Meals on Wheels collapses. Parents can’t find work, and so they not only can’t bring home a paycheck, but they can’t meet the president’s stringent requirements for supplemental assistance. Their children go hungry. Their older cousins can’t continue their education because they can’t get student loans. Other calamity ensues.

Meanwhile, the church continues its current course. Less than 20 percent of members tithe, and congregations spend most of the money they take in on themselves, particularly buildings and staff. Food pantries and clothes closets can’t keep up with burgeoning need. Health clinics meet only a fraction of the demand. Expensive care from hospitals is out of the question.

Hurting people—the chronically ill, children, the elderly, even veterans—suffer without alleviation, either from the government or from the church. They can do math, and they realize 81 percent of evangelicals put the president in office. And now their safety net is gone. They can see the landscape, and they don’t see nearly enough congregations even trying to knit a new one. You can understand why they blame God. Either way they look at it—politically or religiously—Christian people did them in.

If 20th-century American history is any indication, Knox’s “Lose Scenario #3” is most likely.  Don’t get me wrong, the Christian church did some amazing work of benevolence in the last century and its members continue to do this work today.  But the church’s influence, particularly among evangelicals, has not kept up with the need.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  We could point to the evangelical rejection of the so-called “social gospel.”  We could point to the fact that most white evangelicals see no real disconnect between the pursuit of the American Dream and the pressing social needs of the world.  Similarly we could point to the way evangelicals have too often baptized capitalism.  I am sure there are others.  We are all guilty.

I hope Christians take Knox’s call seriously.  I appreciate his piece and I agree with it. But as a student of history, I realize that the church will need to make a bold break with the recent past if it wants to live without a government safety net.  And Knox is right about one more thing–it will take a revival.  The last time evangelicals displayed social action fitting with the call of the Gospel was during the Second Great Awakening.

Psychic Dogs and Other U.S. Government Experiments With the Paranormal

jacobsenIt turns out that the United States government has had a long fascination with psychics, the paranormal, ESP, and the occult.

Check out Colin Dickey’s review of Annie Jacobsen’s book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis at the New Republic.

A taste:

In 1952, the U.S. Army asked Duke University to help them develop a program to determine if dogs were psychic. Specifically, they wondered, could dogs use extrasensory perception (ESP)? To this end, researchers carried out a series of 48 tests on a beach in Northern California to see if dogs could locate underwater explosives. At first, the results pleased the scientists, who concluded that there was “no known way in which the dogs could have located the under-water mines except by extrasensory perception.”

Let us pause for a minute before going further. A dog’s olfactory capabilities are 40 to 50 times greater than those of a human; its hearing is four times stronger. Judging them by human metrics, dogs literally have extrasensory perception. This does not mean, however, that they are psychic or paranormal. And sure enough, further tests failed to deliver any supernatural results. A follow-up program was deemed an “utter failure,” and researchers noted a “rather conspicuous refusal of the dogs to alert.”

This experiment is only one of the strange stories—many of them recently declassified—in Annie Jacobsen’s Phenomena: The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis. As with her previous books on Area 51, Operation Paperclip (the secret project to bring Nazi rocket scientists to the U.S. after the war), and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops new technology for the Defense Department), this one begins with the fallout of World War II and the extreme measures the military-industrial complex took to unlock and weaponize psychic abilities in the early days of the Cold War. Spanning over 50 years, Jacobsen’s tale takes us from the immediate postwar years to the CIA’s experiments in the 1960s and ‘70s. The Defense Department, she tells us, began its own experiments in the 1980s and ‘90s, before their final incarnation, Project Stargate, was finally decommissioned in 1995.

Read the rest here.

 

Quote of the Day

From the editorial board of The New York Times:

The Carrier deal stands as an interesting argument against longstanding Republican economic orthodoxy.  In making the deal, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have embraced the idea that government does indeed have a role to play in the free market.  They intervened, and as a result, 800 people will keep their jobs.  If they applied the same interventionist approach to other labor issues–raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime pay come to mind–millions of working people might actually stand a chance.

Ben Carson, Bear Killings, Welfare, and Faith

I got in late last night and missed Dr. Ben Carson’s appearance on the CNN GOP Town Hall. Earlier today I finally got a chance to see Carson’s answer to a question about faith and the welfare state. It has been making the rounds on social media:

I want to commend Jessica Fuller for this question.  It is the best question on faith and politics that I have heard asked in this primary season.  (And that includes the media and the moderators of debates).

I am partially sympathetic here with Carson.  It is the responsibility of Christians to care for the poor at the local level through voluntary societies such as churches.

But we also live in a broken world.  Sometimes voluntary societies fail. Sometimes the church fails.

Think about the Jim Crow South.  Where was the white church during segregation?  If you read Martin Luther King Jr’s. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or David Chappell’s treatment of the Civil Rights movement in Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow you have to come to grips with the fact that the white church did not do its job. And because it didn’t do its job, the government had to step in and desegregate.  (This is also part of Mark Noll’s argument in God and Race in American Politics: A Short History).

I wonder if the same thing can be said for poverty in America.  Would we need welfare programs if Christians were doing their job?  I’m not sure, but it is certainly something to think about.

I also wonder why caring for the poor always has to be framed in a “big government” vs. “civil society” way.  Yes, the welfare system needs reform.  But why can’t government also be involved in this kind of work?  Carson rattles off a bunch of problems with welfare.  But there are also stories of success.

And then there are the historical problems with Carson’s comments..

First, Carson is right about the Constitution.  The Constitution doesn’t say that it is the government’s job to take care of the poor.  In fact, I am not sure the Constitution says anything about taking care of the poor.

Second, I am sure that the kind of moral community Carson is talking about here was present in the “old days of America.” I have even written about it. (Although I failed to mention the bear-attacks).

But one also has to be cautious when suggesting that back in the good old days everyone cared for one another and there was no self-interest.  It is easy to romanticize this kind of community.  Carson is very nostalgic for a world that only partially existed.

Third,  Carson’s reference to Woodrow Wilson and progressivism comes straight out of the Glenn Beck playbook. In fact, when Beck and his writers attacked me a few years ago I had to deal with rabid Beck fans leaving messages on my office answering machine accusing me of being “Woodrow Wilson.” For Beck, Wilson’s racism is not a problem.  He is a problem for his “big-government” solutions to social issues.

But putting all the blame on Wilson and the Progressive Era fails to recognize that one of the brightest moments in American history–Lincoln freeing the slaves and the Radical Republican Reconstruction plan to bring racial equality to the South in the wake of the Civil War– was an example of an active federal government try legislating morality.

Eric Foner Invites Former Senator Jim DeMint to His Class on Slavery

Jim DeMint is a former United States Senator from South Carolina. He currently serves as president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.  He is also the author of a new book:  Falling in Love With Amercia Again.  In this book DeMint argues that it was people of faith, and not the federal government, who brought an end to slavery in the United States.  Here is a taste of an article about the book that appeared in today’s Tampa Bay Times:

Christian radio host Jerry Newcombe had DeMint on his show Vocal Point to talk about that book Falling in Love With America Again. DeMint defined conservatives as people who want to retain principles that have proven to move the country forward. The conversation turned to the Civil War and whether that showed that the nation’s founding guidelines didn’t always produce good results.
DeMint argued that the Civil War vindicated conservative principles. He first credited the Constitution for leading to the end of slavery, then he took a different tack.
“But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government,” DeMint said. “It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. … So no liberal is go.
Eric Foner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the Civil War, begs to differ.  In fact, he even invited DeMint to sit in on his course on slavery at Columbia University.  Again, the article from the Tampa Bay Times:
Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia University and a leading Civil War scholar, rejected DeMint’s conclusion and invited him to attend the class he is teaching this semester.
“He will learn that the federal government was central to emancipation,” Foner said. “The Second Confiscation Act, Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment originated with the federal government, not to mention the role of the army in freeing slaves. Of course, many other actors were involved, not least slaves themselves who seized freedom. But it was a context created by the federal government — the war — that enabled them to do so.”
The Second Confiscation Act of 1862 declared that the federal government would seize the slaves of any rebel and they “shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.”
The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, declared that slaves in the Confederate states — but not states loyal to the Union — “are, and henceforward shall be free.
Read more about it, including a discussion of Christian faith and slavery, here.

A High School Teacher "Warns" College Professors

Kenneth Bernstein is a retired high school government teacher.  He has spent most of his career teaching AP courses at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, MD.  He was the 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher.

In a revealing piece at The Washington Post (originally published in Academe) entitled “A Warning to College Profs From a High School Teacher,” Bernstein describes how No Child Left Behind and Advanced Placement courses have made students unprepared for college.  He writes: “Please do not blame those of us in public schools for how unprepared for higher education the students arriving at your institutions are.  We have very little say in what is happening to public education.”

Here is more of his piece:

My primary course as a teacher was government, and for the last seven years that included three or four (out of six) sections of Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics. My students, mostly tenth graders, were quite bright, but already I was seeing the impact of federal education policy on their learning and skills. 

In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift. 

Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education. 

Recognizing this, those of us in public schools do what we can to work on those higher-order skills, but we are limited. Remember, high schools also have tests—No Child Left Behind and its progeny (such as Race to the Top) require testing at least once in high school in reading and math. In Maryland, where I taught, those tests were the state’s High School Assessments in tenth-grade English and algebra (which some of our more gifted pupils had taken as early as eighth grade). High schools are also forced to focus on preparing students for tests, and that leads to a narrowing of what we can accomplish in our classrooms. 

I mentioned that at least half my students were in AP classes. The explosive growth of these classes, driven in part by high school rankings like the yearly Challenge Index created by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, is also responsible for some of the problems you will encounter with students entering your institutions. The College Board did recognize that not everything being labeled as AP met the standards of a college-level course, so it required teachers to submit syllabi for approval to ensure a minimal degree of rigor, at least on paper. But many of the courses still focus on the AP exam, and that focus can be as detrimental to learning as the kinds of tests imposed under No Child Left Behind.

Brooks on "Thurston Howell Romney"

Since I was on the road earlier this week, I did not get a chance to see David Brooks’s column on the Mitt Romney 47% remark when it came out on Monday.

Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare? 
And Brooks continues:
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency. 
Once again, Brooks is on the mark.