Your Typical Pauper

A recent blog written by “Salty Political Musings” on July 7th received a belated comment this month from someone calling himself “Auth.” In his comment, Auth said that “In Wisconsin we have what is called Badger Care and it has . . . left the poorer citizens having nothing to pay for, when they are the folks who are usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year. .. . ” For some reason this comment showed up on my blog and I thought I would respond to it.

To begin with, I have a problem with anonymous writers, though I realize that the broad audience of the blogosphere demands for many people that readers not know who they are. Anonymity allows them the license to say what they think without fear of recrimination. I can understand that, and I respect it. But sometimes it is also a shield to protect the narrow-minded and bigoted, as in this case. The reference to the poor as “usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year” suggests a narrow, if not a closed, mind. It suggests stereotyping and castigating all of those who are below the poverty level — what is it, $23,000 a year for a family of four? — as beneath contempt. It suggests that we should have no sympathy whatever for those who struggle to keep their heads above water in an economy where many are going under for the third time. It suggests that the poor are a burden the rest of hard-working Americans must carry about on their backs. Finally, it suggests a heart closed to the pain and suffering of others. It is truly sad.

The assumption seems to be that poverty is the result of a lack of will, that the poor are somehow poor on purpose. These people are not impoverished, they are “bums.” They bring it on themselves, thus we should not have any patience with them or any sympathy for their plight. This view is insensitive and naive to the point of stupidity. It suggests a prejudice strong enough to be called “bigotry.” I have no doubt whatever that there are some, perhaps many, who can be described as the poor are in this comment. I have said before that there are indeed many abuses of the welfare system. Let’s agree that there are thousands. For all those thousands, there are tens of thousands more who are pulled from under the waters and brought back to life as a result of the social programs that have come under attack by politicians on the right side of the political spectrum. This is not acceptable. Surely, we should err on the side of compassion for our fellow humans.

When one reads that a Tea Party audience cheers and shouts “yes!” when Ron Paul is asked  by Wolf Blitzer during a primary debate whether an uninsured man should be allowed to die, one can infer that Auth’s position is not just an anomaly, but is rather widespread in this country. And this is deeply disturbing, though it explains why the Republican Party has received such broad support for its continued call for tax cuts and the reduction or elimination of social programs that sustain the poor. If, as one suspects, there are a great many Americans who regard the poor as lazy and unmotivated, who are poor not through accident but on purpose, then the attacks on social programs by people like Mitt Romney and Ryan Paul make perfect sense.

What is most disturbing about this phenomenon, however, is that we are supposed to be a nation of caring people guided by ethical and religious principles built around the notions of love and charity. But this may in fact be a fiction if there are enough people like “Auth” and those who cheered at Ron Paul’s comments about the uninsured. And if it is indeed a fiction then the character of this nation has assuredly changed for the worse. Time will tell.

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20 thoughts on “Your Typical Pauper

  1. Hugh, as a longtime journalist, I am very bothered by the Internet’s almost blanket invitation to anonymous or fake-name comments. We always required letters to the editor to be signed. It eats at me to see newspapers — where there is a professional code of ethics set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists — allowing anonymous comments to be posted to their online stories, let alone the wildfire of anonymous posts on less responsible online sites. As an editor, I argued in vain with corporate officials against that kind of policy. But I do see that some newspapers now have tightened the criteria, with some forcing anyone wishing to comment to do so only with their Facebook identity, which is generally a real person.

    Anonymity, especially on serious news topics, it is license for all sorts of problems, from lies and mistruths to outright libel, for which the publishing (or web hosting) entity could be liable if the subject of the anonymous posts wishes to pursue legal action. Online, it is not only those who comment anonymously on someone else’s original post, but those who create blogs or web sites under fake names, etc. I understand that it sometimes offers protection to those whose jobs could be jeopardized if they used their real name, but that is still not enough of a justification for the rampant anonymity. Newspapers traditionally did not grant sources anonymity unless using their actual name may put them at risk of physical harm (mere loss of job not enough of a reason), or in cases of national security. Only rarely should it be granted — even in the most dire of times, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence put their full names to the document. Treasonable act that could have gotten them hung.

    This is one of the great casualties of the proliferation of online media: a lack of accountability for what is posted, and a deeper deterioration of the public discourse. But I usually fall back on something I learned long ago in journalism: If it is unsigned, or if it bears an obviously false signature — unless it is whistleblowing on something substantial — toss it right in the trash can and do not take it seriously. If someone doesn’t have the guts to sign their name, then, almost all of the time, their opinion is not worth hearing.

    • Normally I wouldn’t have given this comment a thought — for the reasons you cite and also because it is so obviously ugly. But it gave me the opportunity to speak about an important issue. Thanks for the input, as always.

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  2. Very well said. I do not recall the source of this statistic, so please forgive. The homeless have no greater propensity toward substance abuse than those who are housed. Throughout my volunteer work with homeless families beginning in 1999, I have witnessed people who try to paint all of the homeless people with a broad brush based on the image of a panhandler on the street. The panhandler is just a small percentage of the homeless population. The agency I do most of my work reported in its July 30 fiscal year end results – 84% of the homeless families they help are employed with a median average family wage of $9.00 an hour. A living wage for an individual is just under $10 an hour and for a family is just under $17 an hour (note this statistic varies by region). To your point, each of the GOP candidates should be ashamed for not chastising the people who cheered or the point made by Dr. Ron Paul. Thanks for writing this.

    • Thanks! I knew you would have a valuable perspective on this, working as you do close to the problem. I appreciate your amplification — as always!!

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  3. Great post. The irony in looking around at idiots like “auth” or Ron Paul’s audiences is that many of them are 1paycheck from the street. The image of this being a Christian nation is just that, an image no truer to life than a movie poster. To all those RepubliCANTS who claim piety in one breath, and cutting aid to the poor and downtrodden with the next, “Jesus would be ashamed” of them.

    • “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” I think. But, yes. We seem to be headed back to a State of Nature. Thanks for the visit, Dick.

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  4. It is alarming…those *shout-outs* from the lack-minded congregations. Alarming and, at the same time, scary…that so many can’t see the forest for the…forest.
    After reading your posts in the very early morning (and those that are adjoined through clever computer wizardry) I begin to think too much…a hurting too much.

    Thank you too much.

  5. Ugh. That kind of statement makes my stomach hurt for the mean-spirited philosophy that is behind it. As I said before, I think people make these types of statements to make themselves feel better about the fact that they were given more opportunities than others and for passing policies that slash programs for the needy in this country. How many of us would not be in poverty if we suddenly lost our jobs or had a medical emergency? I dont understand how people can be so sure that the are not going to be the next person in line asking for some help when they need it. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Hugh.

  6. Hugh, as you know, I am with you on the larger thrust of your blog: If we’re going to be an enlightened society we have genuine obligations to the the poor, the unemployed, the disabled — to communities in financial straits, to the environment, all of the things that would make life better for all. As a Christian, it also drives me crazy to hear right-wing Christians/Tea Partiers spouting selfishness and hatred so frequently. What would Jesus do? We know what he did — spent his time and compassion with the poor and hungry, the outcasts and the lame. He didn’t sprinkle defense-spending references into his parable of the Good Samaritan. And he insisted that every farmer give a portion of his harvest to the poor with no mention of writing it off as a deduction. Also, we should have learned through the experiences of the late 1920s and early 1930s that the politics of self-centeredness only serves to bring down the entire country. We came pretty close in 2008 to a repeat. Put Romney and Ryan in office, we’ll be there.

    • I agree with you completely, as you know. I received a solicitation from the American Friends Service that contends that we now spend 60% of the budget on “defense.” It’s worse than I thought. But we hear nothing about possible cuts to “defense” — from either side of the aisle!

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  7. As I monitor the daily world happenings, I often wonder where Madame Defarge is, and exactly what’s being knitted into this tangle of worldwide politics. It’s frightening, and a sense of foreboding often washes over me. Thankfully there are good people who step forward and speak up/out, and you are one of them. Bless you! Z

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