One of the mantras to emerge from feminist side of the Leftist swamps during the late 1960s/early 1970s was notion that “the personal is political.” As used by the feminists, it meant that, when suburban women got together to burn their bras, examine their genitals in mirrors, and gripe about patriarchal oppression, they weren’t just engaging in the updated version of coffee klatches. Instead, this “consciousness raising” was a political act because the conclusions they reached would drive their politics.
As is so often the case when it comes to manipulating the political process, the Leftists were onto something. No matter what they say, most people don’t approach issues through education and analysis, nor do they abandon ideas just because those ideas actually fail when they finally leave the analysis phase and become operational. Instead, most people are driven by emotion: Do I feel like a good person when I do this? Is the beneficiary of my political act a good person? And the contrary is true too: Am I punishing an “evil” person if I vote or act in a specific way (since punishing an “evil” person elevates my “goodness” quotient).
I’m not saying anything all of you haven’t already figured out. The only reason I mention this is because I’m struggling with the way in which I can counter a compelling, hard Left HBO documentary that my daughter saw, one that has left her inclined to believe that the welfare state is the answer. The documentary is “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.”
Maria Shriver, who produced the documentary, chose well when she and her team selected Gilbert as the poster child for single mothers, since Gilbert is a very sympathetic woman. She got married at 19 (no out-of-wedlock children here) and had three children with her husband. Unfortunately, her husband was addicted to prescription drugs (no tawdry illegal meth addiction here), wrecking the family finances and destroying their marriage. The show picks up with Gilbert now in her mid-20s, working hard for $9.49 an hour at an assisted living center for the elderly. She’s able to do this work because her children attend a government-funded pre-K daycare center in their hometown of Chattanooga. Further, this loving mother puts food on the table only thanks to the food stamps.
As Alfred Doolittle would have said, Gilbert is definitely among the deserving poor. When you see Gilbert — who did the right thing when she married her children’s father — struggling to cope with sick children and a flooded house (her boyfriend’s house), you can’t help but feel sympathetic. You want to help her. You want her to earn more money considering how hard she works and you want her to have better childcare opportunities. And you think to yourself, “Heck, if she lived in Denmark, none of this would be a problem. (In part, of course, because Denmark’s young people aren’t having children to begin with.) Gilbert would get free child care, a high living wage, all the benefits in the world, and be able to take endless sick days for her kids, as well as for herself.”
When the documentary ends, by which time you’re firmly rooting for Gilbert, the film hits you with the real numbers. Gilbert, we’re told, isn’t an anomaly. She’s part of a crowd: According to the documentary, Gilbert is the living embodiment of the 42 million women in America who live at or below the poverty line, along with (I believe) 28 million children. The documentary doesn’t have to say what we need to do. It’s quite obvious that we ought to raise the minimum wage, make free childcare available to all American children, and provide comprehensive welfare for food and housing.
In case you’re too dim to reach this conclusion by yourself, HBO helpfully provides a guide for you to read alone or discuss with a group. Some of what you’re supposed to discuss involves smart choices women can make. Other discussion ideas, though, encourage Big Government as a solution, and advance a highly partisan Progressive agenda:
The Chambliss Center [pre-K childcare] is very important for Katrina. When she picks up her children she says, “The kids are learning so much here. If I went to a normal day care center, it would cost me $300 per week for all three of my children …that’s a whole paycheck.” Child care expenses for families with working mothers can range from 20 to nearly 50% of the mother’s monthly salary. How do you think Katrina would function if her kids weren’t at the Chambliss Center? Do you know anyone who is struggling with childcare needs? What can we as a society do to help? How important is it that the Chambliss Center operates 24/7?
Numerous studies have shown the long-term benefits of high-quality early education for young learners. However, fewer than 30% of American 4-year olds attend high quality preschool programs. President Obama expressed his support for universal high-quality preschool and many states have been developing universal pre-K legislation and programs. What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages to government sponsored universal pre-Kindergarten programs?
What did you know before about federal programs like Head Start, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit? Has this changed after viewing the film?
What are the social services in your area for families in need of financial assistance? Do you think it’s not enough, or too much? How are they affected by budget decisions at the State and Federal level? Do you think people are aware of what government programs provide? How do you think people feel about receiving assistance? Can you think of other programs that could be helpful to women on the brink?
The study guide ends with a list of resources, the second of which is the hard Left Center for American Progress, which some describe as the “shadow Democrat party,” and which sets the agenda for many of the Obama administration initiatives. People troubled by the hardships Gilbert faces will quickly learn that Big Government is the only thing that can save her.
After my daughter saw the show, she was pretty sure that we ought to have more free education for the pre-K crowd, more free daycare, more free food, and mandated higher wages. She was certainly correct that each of these things would have been an immediate benefit to Gilbert. My task was to get my daughter to see that these are all band-aid remedies that might staunch small individual wounds, but will not stop the fatal hemorrhaging in the American economy.
The problem I had is that there’s nothing sexy about free market fixes. They’re abstract and the benefits fall randomly, rather than on specific, targeted people, such as Gilbert. It’s this last fact that means that market reforms cannot guarantee immediate — or, indeed, any — aid to sympathetic figures such as Gilbert.
People who watch the documentary want Gilbert to be fixed immediately and her personal life becomes an overarching political argument. When I said that single motherhood is the biggest dividing line between rich and poor, my daughter pointed out that Gilbert had her children within a marriage. When I said mothers should stay married if at all possible, she pointed out that Gilbert’s husband was a drug addict who destroyed finances, so staying together was not an option. When I said that education is important, she noted that Gilbert was trying to go back to school, but could do so only with government help.
My prescriptions were a free market (as opposed to the over-regulated market we now have), which has proven repeatedly to provide increased economic opportunities for everyone, not just government cronies; education, marriage, and children, in that order; and sticking with a bad marriage, provided that it’s not violent or otherwise abusive, because that is the best way to avoid poverty for both women and children. My daughter’s prescriptions after getting a close-up look at Gilbert’s sympathetic struggles were Big Government.
I didn’t increase my sympathy quotient when I explained to her that there will always be poor people, no matter the system. (In North Korea, outside of government circles, everyone is poor.) In a strong, free-market, capitalist system, fewer people will be poor and even poor people will do better than in non-capitalist countries. For example, I said, while Gilbert is struggling by American standards, the reality is that she shares a big house with her boyfriend, complete with a modern kitchen and nice electronics; she has government-subsidized food; she owns a car; and she has a smart phone, as do all the other adults in her low-income world. It’s almost ludicrous to call her experience “poverty” when one looks at poverty in Brazil or India or Cuba or North Korea or large swathes of Africa. Yes, she’s struggling, but life is struggle.
It would be lovely to give an economic band-aid to the hardworking Gilbert. But when the Democrats demand 42 million band-aids for all the other single mothers, you’ve got a problem. If the body politic or body economic really were a body, this would be the scenario: The American body (we’ll call it Sam) gets entangled in economic brambles, and poor Sam ends up bleeding from millions of scratches on his arms and legs. He looks at the scratches and thinks, “Yikes, I need some band-aids.” Fortunately for him, a mobile blood bank rolls by and offers to buy almost all of his blood in exchange for 42 million single-use band-aids.
Sam is delighted with this offer. He’ll be able to stop the blood flow, even though he’s probably giving to the bank almost as much blood as he’s losing to the cuts. What Sam ignores is that, when the bandages are applied and the mobile blood bank rolls away, he’ll still be stuck in those brambles.
Economic reality says that, if you’re mired in brambles, you don’t sell all your blood for band-aids, while remaining deep in the thorns. Instead, you first get out of the brambles. Only then do you deal with the worst cuts, ignore the rest, and get down to the business of regaining your health and staying away the brambles that got you into trouble in the first place.
None of the above is sexy. Advocating a free market capitalist economy so that there will be fewer poor people is not sexy. Encouraging marriage, even unhappy marriages, for the sake of the children is not sexy. Acknowledging that there will always be poor people and they will always suffer is not sexy. And trying to explain that, in a healthy economy, fewer people are poor and fewer people remain poor isn’t sexy. Appearing to turn your back on the Gilbert’s of the world isn’t only un-sexy, it appears downright sadistic. And explaining that economic reality means that it’s impossible to be, simultaneously, both a comprehensive welfare state and a thriving free market is un-sexy too. (Not to mention the fact that you have to explain that Europe managed to have a welfare state with a capitalist gloss only because America paid for Europe’s defense during the long Cold War years.)
I’ve described one show and one child who was moved Left by its message. However, this close, personal focus is a chronic issue when dealing with the Left. To gain sympathy for its larger agenda, the Left always focuses on the one child who’s illegal immigrant father is deported (although never the one child whose redneck father goes to jail following drunken revelry); or the one single mother who did all the right things; or the one single Gitmo detainee who was a mere child when the Taliban forced him to kill Americans. The focus is always tight, obscuring the rest of the message.
I mentioned the other day that Ben Shapiro has written an excellent book about arguing with Leftists, How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them, which you can get free by registering at Truth Revolt. The book presupposes an argument. My question is how does one challenge this type of gooey, emotional propaganda, which gains a wide television audience and promises that the world can be healed, one government band-aid at a time?