Monday, November 04, 2013

Letter to a Radio Host on the topic of "The Lazy Poor"

Dear [ ],

I heard you on the air talking with Congressman [ ]. I live in his urban district, but I grew up in the suburbs. In fact I was a Republican until I was around thirty. My problem with what I heard you saying doesn't come from a doctrinaire lefty mindset. I got where I am after an embarrassing period when I learned how unsavory and selfish and extreme Republicanism and the comfortable suburban mindset were becoming. It isn't Eisenhower's party anymore.

I heard you referring to lazy people gaming the system to get federal handouts. And I'm pretty sure you weren't referring to ExxonMobil.

I cringe a little when I hear this old chestnut rolled out on local radio. Usually it's confined to the more right wing talk stations, where racism and hatred of the poor is expected.

I can't remember who said it in the Bible, but the quote often goes "The poor will always be with us." If it was Jesus saying this you can bet he wasn't implying that there was no point in bothering to help them out. Jesus (pardon me if you're not a Christian) was pretty clear that our treatment of the poor was the key to everything, that if we failed to help them we were not to expect salvation. But the most aggressively "Christian" among us these days sound the least like Christ in this respect.

Then I hear people like Paul Ryan, who grew up and prospered because he was an early beneficiary of the federal safety net, saying the safety net is becoming a hammock. I can think of no more colossal gall than this. If it is a hammock now it must have been a full service hotel when Paul Ryan was growing up with federal help.

There is a habit among media personalities like yourself to avoid being impolite, to avoid admitting that some of the people in elected office these days are heartless hypocrites. But they are. They are deeply unChristian while pretending to be superChristian. They run endless interference for the huge subsidies given to the enormously profitable corporate farmers and Wall Street banks and oil companies while working just as hard to gut programs intended to help the helpless. To avoid saying this you end up saying the opposite is true. Or you smudge the clear moral difference between the two parties.

Because radio people like yourself are so polite you go through all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid saying that one party is by and large responsible for this systematic heartlessness. Namely the Republicans. To the extent that Dems are cutting aid to the most vulnerable, they are only doing so to try to get within bargaining distance of their GOP counterparts. And the media's rule of false equivalency is what forces them to do this.

Lazy people on Welfare? Do you realize the hard work it takes to collect Welfare? The Scrooges among us (the same ones who want govt off people's backs) make darn sure that every recipient of government largesse (but only those with a net worth less than a million dollars) gets the stink eye, gets endless scrutiny and probing insulting questions, is made to jump through endless hoops and fill out endless forms, and wait in endless lines. Not only is it unkind but it is expensive and inefficient. Anything to avoid helping the less more is left to help the corporation that needs a freer ride.

Consider that there are some people WHO EMPLOYERS SIMPLY WILL NOT EMPLOY. Persons with limitations, with disabilities (physical and mental) that will not go away. Many of them veterans with the wounds earned in our service. Public works jobs programs might help some, but those are stubbornly opposed by Republicans. If some corporate CEO is going to give a million dollars to a congressman to cut unemployment or other benefits perhaps he should obligate himself to hire the people who are losing aid. It won't happen. These people will not be hired because some people are simply unsuited for work. The reasons are rarely laziness or criminality, but that is the reason radio people trot out to gratify their smug and comfortable listeners--whose own benefits are sacred. Of course, to some being poor is criminal enough.

So, please: stop resorting to the worst kind of class stereotypes. The hardest working people are the poor who have to cobble together several jobs to raise themselves up to the pathetic minimum. The laziest? Perhaps it's people Mitt Romney clubs with, who are rich from being rich. Who make money from the pot they were born with. In Romney's case we have learned how the companies he took over were made profitable at the expense of the people working in them. That is what arbitrage is. Buying a company with its own assets, most often by looting the pension fund of retired workers. Legally of course.

Stereotype? The predatory model of the extremely wealthy is more prevalent than the much remarked "lazy model" of the poor. Just as criminality and psychopathy and sociopathy and greed and corruption and ungenerosity is more typical of the very rich than the very poor. (Jesus was on to something.)

Even if it were rare for a billionaire to be rich by less than ethical means, one billionaire guilty of theft will end up with more than all the petty criminals combined, and he (as seen in the case of Jamie Dimon) will be the one who isn't required to do time. He will be the one who is allowed to deduct his government penalty from his taxes.

If you can get your head around this, perhaps a more enlightened and tolerant and generous point of view will creep into your conversations on air. Not insulting rich or poor, but showing a bit more tolerance toward the unlucky people who are down and a bit less latitude toward the lucky ones who already have all the advantages of money, access, power, influence and the paid up ownership of politicians on their side. Jesus was a stern critic of smugness. We should remind ourselves of that.


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