It’s not nice to come across as a gaggle of Grinches this time of year but a troubling trend hatched in 2013. It has to do with people’s attitudes toward others.
We’ll cut to the chase, and we’ll try to be nice about it.
Too many Americans dislike poor people.
There you have it. No pulled punches. No sugarcoating. Just a straight-up statement that warrants a straight-up response.
Notice, we didn’t use the word hate. It just wouldn’t be appropriate this time of year, even if it is the sentiment of some folks out there.
Dislike varies in degree but it does offer some wiggle room.
Few people want to face such a sentiment, especially the day after Christmas. We understand. People just finished digesting big meals and opening big boxes. Many of the boxes contained sought-after gadgets and fancy clothing.
Our thinking is there’s not a better time to state the obvious. People are in a giving mood this time of year. They want to share. Some of the people they will give to are poor people, through various charities and other charitable campaigns. We get it.
How bad was 2013 on the dislike for poor people exchange? Consider these general sentiments, a consensus in some circles.
Americans despised welfare. Americans shunned talk of a minimum wage. Americans loathed the chronically unemployed and the benefits they’ve earned. Americans displayed a disdain for the minimum wage. Fast food workers became public enemy number one when it came to their concerns.
Remember “Reaganomics” and the “trickle down” theory of the 1980s? If you gave rich people massive tax breaks and tax cuts, they would use the extra dollars to invest and create jobs while pouring new money into the economy.
That got cold fast. The rich took the money and scooted. After 12 years of Reagan-Bush, trickle down became trampled over. Poor people didn’t fare too well.
The poor did measurably better during the Clinton-Gore years. Democrat Clinton hijacked the very notion of welfare reform from the Republicans, who had managed to elect a generation public officials for their assault on poor people.
Under Bush-Cheney, massive tax cuts sent the economy into a borderline depression. No one could blame the poor for that.
Today, President Barack Obama says the income gap in the United States is “the defining challenge of our time.” This is the same president who, as a presidential candidate in 2008, was raked over the coals by the far right when an obscure Ohioan named “Joe the Plumber” extracted a response from Obama, when he said the United States needed to “spread the wealth.”
A lot of wealthy people weren’t buying it. Here’s part of what then candidate Obama said:
“Because my attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you. And right now, everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
All of a sudden, wealth became the new confetti, where people feared their shrewd investments would become shredded remnants of all of their hard work, while the do-nothing dregs of the planet would reap their rewards.
Now, for the first time since Mother Teresa walked on Earth, the world has a religious figure who’s elevated the conversation about poverty, the poor and the wretched to new heights. Pope Francis says we are just too consumed by the materialistic elements of life. He’s right, of course, but those who once thought they found religion have conspicuously gone silent on Francis’ exultation toward their lavish lifestyles.
Maine is not immune to the get-off-your-pants gruff that permeates the political discourse, a feeling that poor people somehow relish the notion of a perpetual need for assistance. Maine Gov. Paul LePage continues to push welfare reform, citing the “cycle of intergenerational dependency.” He talks about “hard-working Mainers” as if he and his tea party have a monopoly on the discovery of hereditary laziness.
Understand this. “Inter-generational dependency” in Maine is not synonymous with inter-generational dependency in Mississippi. All poverty is not created equal. It comes in black, in brown, in yellow, in red and it comes in white. Look around Maine, governor. It’s rarely if ever part of the national narrative on welfare but it’s often the universal truth.
Here’s what’s generational. The notion that people who are poor are somehow proud of their circumstances, the fallacy that they are so mired in their own self-inflicted misery that there’s no way of helping them or they helping themselves. Somehow, many Americans have either convinced themselves or been manipulated by others with an agenda that the generational poor can do better if only left to their own devices. Welfare, or any type of government assistance, only exacerbates the problem, some believe.
It’s the poor, not the wealthy, who’ve had to endure the brunt of government malpractice and miserable economies. Whether it was misguided tax breaks, bank and corporate bailouts or so-called welfare reform, rarely is it the rich who get the short end from the consequences of targeting government assistance programs. To paraphrase a line often used in the African-American community, when the rich catch a cold, the poor get pneumonia.
If this nation dares to end poverty and allow people to see a light at the end of the public assistance tunnel the way previous generations did, then bold thinking and bold steps will be required, not political grandstanding that caters to the base instincts of our humanity. We didn’t abandon poor people in earlier generations. We worked to alleviate their suffering and improve the conditions that caused them.
Has it dawned on anyone that it’s actually difficult out there for people facing seemingly insurmountable odds, people with families and without work?
Has it dawned on anyone that a stock market setting records daily with readings above 16,000 means little to someone earning $16,000 annually with others to feed?
How can we have compassionate conservatism when we give tax breaks to those who don’t need them, and not have compassionate liberalism and independent pragmatism, where we provide tax relief and meaningful economic measures for those who truly need the help?
That’s not welfare. That’s not taking advantage of the system. That’s human decency meeting human dignity. There’s not a nicer way to say it.
The Advertiser Democrat Editorial Board