I’ve just been thinking about the latest bit of political-spam making its way around the net, appearing in mailboxes here and there and on blogs in sundry corners of the net. Ostensibly published as a Letter to the Editor of the Waco Herald tribune, I’ve reproduced this bit of revenge-porn below.
What fascinates me about this piece is the hatred it directs at the poor.
The author makes no effort to explain the degree to which the programs she describes actually do constitute a burden on the economy, nor does she seem aware of the reforms of 1996. It is not even clear that she sees any concrete public policy benefit for her proposals. In fact, she makes no claim that this will ease the public obligation, nor even that her proposals will actually decrease the amount of government aid needed by the poor. What she does do is argue that this wholesale surrender of rights in return for public assistance is fair, and that it will teach people a lesson. How it will do the latter is never quite clear. Apparently, it is enlightening to be demeaned.
Perhaps the most glaring assumption of the author is that those on public assistance of any kind are there through some personal failure. The prospect that circumstances beyond someone’s control might lead someone to need public assistance appears to be completely beyond the author of this letter.
Of course, we could find plenty of people on public assistance with a number of mistakes in their past, and I’ll warrant many who have been less than diligent in the work place. But is that what really separates them from the rest of us? Is that the defining feature of poverty? The invariant principle that explains each person on public assistance?
Yes, those are rhetorical questions.
If anyone has not figured out yet that we have a growing number of working poor, or that circumstances beyond people’s control can and will land them in poverty, then they have been working very hard to remain ignorant about a lot of things.
Simply put, a rather large number of Americans are one serious illness away from similar circumstances.
But here is what really bothers me about the attack on the poor; it the clearest of double standards. The very thought that someone on welfare might not really need all they are getting seems to drive some people to heights of cruelty unimaginable. And yet those same people remain well aware that others with varying degrees of wealth may also get by with a crime or two.
To be sure this does not mean that folks necessarily accept crime from other wlaks of life, but it certainly does not get their attention quite so much as the fear that someone on food stamps might be running a scam. The prospect that a banker might embezzle funds is not usually seen as a good argument against the existence of banks. But the welfare mother who doesn’t really need the money? She is public enemy number one.
But perhaps this is all too abstract. Let’s put it in more concrete terms; the same people who rolled their eyes and complained about the bank and corporate bailouts that began with Bush and continued with Obama actually did something to stop government-funded health-care. The former was an objection “in principle,” but the latter was a battle that some fought tooth and nail.
It is a pattern seen all too frequently. But why? I think for most of the people who write letters such as this corporate corruption is simply too far beyond them. It is a bit like the weather, a storm one must survive, but not one someone can do anything about. If the banks and lending agencies have pulled a fast one on all of us in recent years, then well, go tell it on the mountain.
But what we can do, what is absolutely within our power as ordinary people, is to punish those who might be unworthy of government aid. …to make their lives miserable, and to demean them. If you cannot do something about the corporate monsters of the world, then you can sure as hell make someone on food-stamps cry. And that of course is the point.
It would be a mistake to suggest that this letter was a serious effort to advocate reform, or even to discuss any actual problems with public assistance. It is an exercise in fantasy, and that fantasy is about hurting people. Whoever wrote this letter understands one thing very well. When you are looking for a scape-goat, make damned sure it is someone less powerful than yourself.
Edited to add: Just in case anyone fails to grasp the significance of some of these suggestions, let us take a look at what happened the last time government agents were empowered to decide who was fit to breed and who was not:
Here is the letter as it appeared in my email-box.
Put me in charge . . .
Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no
cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice
and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul
away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.
Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women
Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test
recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine and document all tattoos
and piercings. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, smoke or
get tats and piercings, then get a job.
Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a barracks?
You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair.
Your “home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will
be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and
your own place.
In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week
or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the
roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we
find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and
your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the â€œcommon
Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all
of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules..
Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self
esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone
else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered
If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at
least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current
system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.
AND While you are on Govâ€™t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes
that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You
will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a
Govâ€™t welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.