(What Krugman doesn't mention is that there's often a racial sub-text to the opportunistic political rhetoric, which explains the willful blindness and hypocrisy that drives this version of anti-government white populism within the GOP.) Krugman:
Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan ... requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.
Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts? ...
Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor... But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? ...
Presumably...voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.
The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.
The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.