My last piece, “The Poor Get Poorer: 3 Character Traits That Undermine Prosperity,” received a mixed reception, at least if some of the comments are any indication.
If I can address just one persistent theme:
A few commenters raised the “problem” of “the homeless,” which only ever seems to be a “problem” when a conservative is in office, be it at the national level or a municipal one.
Just as it’s been said that it used to cost a fortune to keep Gandhi living in poverty, in like fashion, the “homeless” have made not a few people — professional fundraisers and “community activists” — if not rich, than certainly quite well off.
This is particularly amusing, in a grim way, because the “homeless” have never really existed in the numbers their advocates claim, particularly the “homeless veterans” without whom Hollywood producers and Law & Order writers would be unemployed themselves.
Goodness, even during “Tulipmania,” at least the tulips were real…
In any event, by sheer coincidence, Mitt Romney’s comments about “the 47%” made headlines around the same time, inspiring a national debate — actually, more like a barroom brawl — about poverty.
I don’t pretend to have a Grand Unified Theory on the topic.
However, all the statistics and theories and studies folks can throw at me can’t detract from my lived experience, and my observations of individuals — rich and poor — over the course of almost half a century.
That’s why I get a kick out of pundits like Michael Gerson, whose response to the “47%” uproar included this bit:
While the Romney video was making news, I was reading some recent research by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam. He recounts an interview with a woman given the fictional name of Mary Sue, who lives in a declining industrial town in Ohio. Mary Sue’s parents divorced when she was young. Her mother became a stripper and left for days at a time. Her stepmother beat her and confined her to a single room. Mary Sue told the interviewer that, for a time, her only friend had been a yellow mouse who shared the apartment.
Mary Sue went in and out of juvenile detention. One boyfriend burned her arms with cigarettes. Her current partner has two children by two other women.
Is such a story really explainable as a failure of personal responsibility?
Let’s quickly bypass the amusing-to-me fact that wealthy Michael Gerson apparently had to read a book written by another rich guy so he’d have a poor person to write about.
(I’m guessing he’s also not signing over the check he gets from last week’s column to “Mary Sue.”)
(And the other amusing fact that Robert Putnam notoriously held back his most famous findings because they weren’t politically correct — although he now denies doing just that.)
To answer Gerson’s question:
As a matter of fact… yes.
That is: the story IS “really explainable as a failure of personal responsibility” on the part of the stripper-mother (and absent father, presuming stripper-mother hadn’t intentionally kept him out of his daughter’s life through some trumped-up court order).
Is it “fair” that the mother’s failure of personal responsibility trickled down to stain her daughter’s life so thoroughly?
Of course not.
But life isn’t fair.
The universe operates on blind, brutal principles of cause and effect. The four seasons come and go in a particular order. Gravity exists and often sucks, like when your wedding ring rolls down the drain.
As part of that same universe, we humans are unfairly subject to similar mechanisms.
Liberals, progressives, communists, socialists: call them what you wish, but it is beyond dispute that their stubborn determination to alter these principles and laws have led to far more suffering than those laws were responsible for in the first place.
“Fairness” can be fatal.
I’d rather focus attention back onto something Obama said a while back — which was, more troublingly, cheered by his audience.
You know what I’m talking about: the infamous “You didn’t build that” speech.
Remember the part where he laughed off the idea that people think they are successful because — horrors! — they “must be so smart.”
He ridicules the tendency of Americans to brag about being hard workers with a variant of “So’s your old man.” (“Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”)
OK, fine. Speaking of everybody’s “old man”…
My (former) best friend and I dated brothers when we were in high school. Compared to us, the family was really well off. (Three cars to our none, for instance.)
My friend was furious after the tactless brother (her’s) had blithely chirped (I now think he had Asperger’s…):
“My dad makes more money than your dad because he works harder.”
Naturally, I forced myself to agree with her that that was a horrible thing to say. And it was unnecessarily blunt.
But (and I didn’t say this to her at the time) it was also true.
Her dad was an oddball with a chip on his shoulder. The boyfriends’ dad was an oddball too — don’t get me started — but he was clearly able to shelve the “oddballness” and/or get into a profession that rewarded or overlooked it. (He was an engineer, if I recall correctly.)
Both men were the “nutty inventor” types. Both had been born with plastic spoons in their mouths. Yet only one “made it.”
Here’s the thing: My friend’s dad didn’t “work hard” so much as he had a cruddy low-level job.
Those two things are NOT identical, but, being a socialist, my friend thought they were. (So does Obama.)
Here’s a final thought:
All those people who cheered when Obama mocked old-fashioned notions of intelligence and hard work are the very same people now outraged by Romney’s clumsily stated remarks about the “47%.”
In other words: the same people who helped create the “47%” whose existence they’re now trying to deny.
More provocations from Kathy Shaidle at PJ Lifestyle:
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