Will those who benefit from Obamacare offset those who are harmed by it?

At PowerLine, Paul Mirengoff analyzes a Politico article that attempts to assess the political fallout from Obamacare.  The Politico writers, says Mirengoff, acknowledge that those in the individual insurance market aren’t feeling the love for the Democrats now, but imply that the majority of these people would have voted Republican in any event.  Mirengoff notes, though, this impression is belied by facts in the Politico article:

But later in the article we learn that, according to a survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly half of those who brought their own insurance are between the ages of 18 and 44. We also learn, thanks to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, that there is no statistically significant difference between the political party affiliation of those who buy their own health care.

To be sure, when pressed, more people in this group say they lean Republican than Democrat. But the Kaiser poll clearly supports my statement that the party allegiance of Obamacare losers (at least this set of them) is split. Moreover, as one analyst quoted by Politico says, anger over cancellation letters is likely to cross party lines.

In other words, actual numbers suggest that the first wave of Obamacare victims may turn some Democrats into Republican voters, at least temporarily.

Obama and the Democrats, however, are counting on the fact that, for every voter who turns against the Dems because he lost his insurance, his rates went up, and his coverage quality went down, the Dems will still gain voters who got insurance despite preexisting conditions or who benefited from the subsidies that voters with sticker shock are funding.  Just as Republicans fear the moment when 51% or more of Americans get government hand-outs, the Democrats look forward to the moment when 51% or more of Americans look to the government for goodies.

What I think both the Democrats and the Republicans are forgetting is that a large segment of that 51% doesn’t vote.  How do I know this?  Because I have a family member who is part of that 51%.  I love this family member, who is an honest, decent person with a great deal of integrity.  Nevertheless, her choice of friends leaves something to be desired.  (And no, I don’t know what bizarre combination of nature, nurture, and peer pressure resulted in me being a very wholesome professional living an upper-middle-class life in a chi-chi suburb surrounded by children and dogs, while she ended up being a college drop-out living in a trailer park.)

He may benefit from Obamacare, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be mentally organized enough to vote for Democrats

He may benefit from Obamacare, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be mentally organized enough to vote for Democrats

This gal’s friends all get some form of welfare:  foods stamps, welfare checks, free clinic health care, etc.  Many of them dropped out the employment market years ago.  To the extent that they are almost entirely dependent on government largesse, it is in their best interest to vote Democrat.  Obamacare definitely increases their fealty to the Democrat party.

The problem that the Democrats have with this cohort, however, is that, while it’s in these people’s best interests to vote Democrat, the same pathologies that leave them dependent on government also mean that most of them can’t or won’t vote.  Some are convicted felons (with their criminal records invariably tied to substance abuse), so they can’t vote.  All of them are eternally disorganized.  A combination of substance abuse, mental health disorders, and old-fashioned stupidity means that these people cannot get their acts together sufficiently to voter their own interests.  Most aren’t even registered, and wouldn’t know what to do if they were.

While these people are the Democrats’ natural constituency, they aren’t Democrat voters.  Sure, if you do a man on the street interview with one of these people, he’ll talk the party line and sound like he’ll be the first ones at the polls on election day.  If you were to go to his house on election day, though, you’d discover him slumped on the couch, beer in one hand and doobie in the other, unaware that he missed his opportunity to keep those welfare checks coming.

It's guys like this who reliably vote for Democrats, mistakenly believing that you help people by making them helpless

It’s guys like this who reliably vote for Democrats, mistakenly believing that you help people by making them helpless

Ironically, for a long time, those who have repeatedly voted Democrat for the benefit of this welfare class probably aren’t themselves recipients of welfare.  Instead, they’re the true believers, from the working class on up, who look at these pathetic, disorganized, drunk, and drugged masses and think that a vote for the Democrats, by keeping the welfare spigot open, will help these people.  Put another way, when we see Democrats win, it’s not because the welfare crowd cast the votes, it’s because the bleeding-heart crowd did it on their behalf.

I realize, of course, that this is a simplification that doesn’t take into account functional poor people who believe that they can survive only with government handouts and who make damn sure to vote for the party in charge of the handouts.  These are the voters Republicans need to reach, so that we can explain to them that the Democrats are rather quickly killing off the working- and middle-class geese who have been laying the golden eggs that have then been redistributed to the welfare class.  Destroy your tax base and there’s no more welfare.  These same people need to be convinced that welfare does not need to be a way of life.  And more specifically, blacks need to understand that, just because slavery was work, not all work is slavery.

The big question is whether these once-reliable Democrat voters, now that they're feeling the full effect of Obama's lies, will still vote Democrat

The big question is whether these once-reliable Democrat voters, now that they’re feeling the full effect of Obama’s lies, will still vote Democrat

Obamacare is going to have a very profound effect on Democrat voters, I suspect, but not in the way Democrats hope and Republicans fear.  The Democrats screwed by Obamacare and insulted by Obama’s lies will have their “come to Jesus moments” and may well shift political allegiance, even if only temporarily.  On the flip side, those who voted (and I mean actually cast a vote) for the Democrats and who are not screwed, will continue to vote Democrat.  But the poorest people, the ones who now have heavily subsidized, gold-plated health insurance, will not suddenly rush to the polls.  Health insurance or not, their pathologies will continue to render them incapable of the mental organization required for sending in an absentee ballot or getting out of the house and to the polling station on election day.

 

The homogeneity of Leftist thinking at American institutions and its effect on poverty at the ground level

I’ve written before about one of my favorite writers, Paul Fussell.  He wrote a wonderful essay entitled Thank God for the Atom Bomb, about the righteousness of dropping the atom bomb.  He was in the Army when Truman dropped the bomb, so Fussell wholeheartedly approved — and had the data to back up his personal opinion.  (More recently released data completely backs up his 30 year old hypothesis.)  I also wholeheartedly approve, as my Mom was a few weeks away from dying in a Japanese concentration camp when the bomb dropped.

Fussell also wrote what I think is one of the greatest books ever about WWI, The Great War and Modern Memory.  I just bought the Kindle version to reread because my copy, which I bought in college, has disintegrated. It’s a beautifully written book that looks at both the war and concurrent war literature to track a vast paradigm shift in intellectual thought during the four years the war lasted.  Young men went in imbued with Victorian ideas of chivalry and honor; they came out jaded, cynical, and completely unable to accept that aggression is sometimes necessary and could have been useful in preventing Hitler’s rise. It is a triumph of both military writing and literary writing.

What you might not know about Fussell was that this iconoclast was a university professor.  Nowadays, the phrase iconoclastic professor is an oxymoron.  Not so in Fussell’s heyday.  Wikipedia sums up his military and academic career:

Fussell attended Pomona College from 1941 until he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. He landed in France in 1944 as a 20 year-old second lieutenant with the 103rd Infantry Division,[8] was wounded while fighting in Alsace, and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was honorably discharged from the army in 1946, returned to Pomona to finish his B.A. degree in 1946-7, married fellow Pomona graduate Betty Harper in 1949, and completed his MA (1949) and Ph.D. (1952) at Harvard University.

He began his teaching career at Connecticut College (1951–55) before moving to Rutgers University in 1955 and finally the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. He also taught at the University of Heidelberg (1957–58) and King’s College London (1990–92). As a teacher, he traveled widely with his family throughout Europe from the 1950s to 70s, taking Fulbright and sabbatical years in Germany, England and France.

As his writing shows, Fussell was an entirely original thinker who didn’t march to the beat of anyone’s drum.  Indeed, he delighted in challenging what was already becoming stifling academic orthodoxy:

Fussell stated that he relished the inevitable controversy of Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (1983) and indulged his increasing public status as a loved or hated “curmudgeon” in the rant called BAD: or, The Dumbing of America (1991). In between, Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (1988) confirmed his war against government and military doublespeak and prepared the way for Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (1989). The epiphany of his earlier essay, “My War”, found full expression in his memoir Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic (1996), “My Adolescent illusions, largely intact to that moment, fell away all at once, and I suddenly knew I was not and never would be in a world that was reasonable or just”. The last book by Fussell published while he was alive, The Boys’ Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-45 (2003) was once again concerned with the experience of combat in World War II.

Fussell was never petrified or brainwashed by his academic career.  I wonder what Fussell would have thought if he’d been a teacher at Bowdoin in the last twenty years or so.  Bowdoin found itself in the news lately because of what David Feith calls “The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World.”  It all started when Barry Mills, Bowdoin College’s president, had a golf game with investor and philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein.  During the game, the subject of academic diversity came up.  Both Mills and Klingenstein would agree that Klingenstein didn’t like it.  According to Mills’s retelling at a subsequent graduation ceremony, Klingenstein was hostile and, in a word, dumb.  Writes Feith:

In his address, President Mills described the golf outing and said he had been interrupted in the middle of a swing by a fellow golfer’s announcement: “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons,” said the other golfer, in Mr. Mills’s telling. During Mr. Mills’s next swing, he recalled, the man blasted Bowdoin’s “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” At the end of the round, the college president told the students, “I walked off the course in despair.”

Klingenstein got word of this graduation address, which implied that the anonymous golf-companion was a troglodyte and racist, and knew that Mills was talking about him.  Klingenstein decided to set the record straight.  Rather than just saying “that’s not what I meant,” or offering his opinion about diversity, Klingenstein took his money and funded a National Association of Scholars project that carefully examined Bowdoin’s curriculum, especially in the last ten years.  The results were eye-opening, to say the least — or, saying a little more than the least, eye-opening to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to what’s going on in, and the product (i.e., graduates) coming out of, these academic “gatekeepers of civilization”:

Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.

The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to “sustainability,” or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to “global citizenship,” or loving all countries except one’s own.

The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”

Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that “four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative.” In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama. Not that any of this matters if you have ever asked around the faculty lounge.

“A political imbalance [among faculty] was no more significant than having an imbalance between Red Sox and Yankee fans,” sniffed Henry C.W. Laurence, a Bowdoin professor of government, in 2004. He added that the suggestion that liberal professors cannot fairly reflect conservative views in classroom discussions is “intellectually bankrupt, professionally insulting and, fortunately, wildly inaccurate.”

This is an intellectual, academic paradigm shift of almost incomprehensible magnitude.  Since its inception, regardless of the reality on the ground, America’s self-image (which was sold to generations of school children and college students right up until the 1950s) was of an inclusive nation, a melting pot, dedicated to the principle that all American citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the law; have a right to equal access to American opportunities (with it being up to the people whether to take that access); and are subject to the downside risks should they refuse to seize the opportunities or violate the law.  With slavery and Jim Crow, we deviated from the principles, but the principles were sound.

At Bowdoin, though, and others like it, the paradigm has shifted.  Young people are taught a new, ugly paradigm about their country:  America is composed of disparate groups, with a few select groups made up of white men (and, probably, Jews) controlling the nation and doing what they can to exploit, denigrate, and impoverish a never-ending, every-growing list of victim classes, ranging from women, to homosexuals, to non-white races, to Muslims, to fat people, to anything that can be brought under the umbrella of victim.  There is no such thing in this world as equality of opportunity.  There is only equality of outcome that can be attained by using the government to strong-arm the ruling class of white males (and, possibly, Jews) so that they redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the victims.

I was talking the other day to a friend who works at elementary schools in a large, urban ghetto.  These schools have no white children.  The schools are dreadful, and the children — innocent victims all — suffer terribly.  They grow up in abysmal poverty, and they don’t have role models within their homes showing  education or wealth.  Their neighborhoods are rife with crime (especially gun fire) and substance abuse. Almost all come from broken homes.Their streets are dangerous because of gangs.  The message one receives from those brave enough to work in those neighborhoods is that these children can succeed only if we pour government funds into their schools.  And if those funds don’t work, then we need to pour more in, and still more in.

In my mind, I compared these children — and they are so sad, since they are bright little lights that are blinking out — with the immigrants who came to this country between, say, 1850 and 1950.  They lived in ghettos; they lived in abysmal poverty; their parents didn’t speak the language of wealth (many didn’t even speak English); the streets were dangerous, not because of gunfire, but because of knives, disease, and starvation; there was significant substance abuse (alcoholism and opium); schools were grossly underfunded, etc.  And yet these children became working class, their children became middle class, and their children became upper class.  It wasn’t a 100% success rate at every generation, but it was a substantial rate at every generation.

They went from this:

Jacob Riis tenement photograph

and this:

Jacob Riis image of street kids

to this:

Suburban kitchen

What’s the difference between then and now? I don’t believe that it’s because American blacks (and it’s mostly blacks stuck for generations in ghettos) are forever developmentally disabled by slavery. John McWhorter points out that blacks were ascending rapidly, both socially and economically, before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society enticed them into welfare and single parenthood (welfare pays single mothers better than two parent families).  Starting in the 1960s, the increasingly Left-leaning white leadership in America told blacks that, the end of slavery and Jim Crow notwithstanding, they are not created equal and they are not equal under the law.  They are different — they are needier.  Without Mama and Papa government, they are nothing.

I think it’s this paradigm shift, one that starts in the Ivory Towers by creating infinite victim classes, all of which that can be raised up only by government intervention and control, that trickles down into the streets. In the old days, you had to do it yourself, so you did. Nowadays, the government is supposed to rescue you. Homes don’t emphasize education, self-sufficiency, and upward mobility. They emphasize “Why isn’t the government helping?”  This is not about race, or slavery, or poverty — it is about an intellectual environment that explicitly educates future leaders that government needs race-victims, and slave-victims and poverty-victims to fulfill its purpose.  Without those classes, government is meaningless and by definition a vehicle of evil.

Paul Fussell, who thought outside the box, would not have approved.  (Or at least I like to think he wouldn’t have approved.)

Newt Gingrich, poor children, and work habits

One of the reasons a lot of people, myself included, like Newt is because he says politically incorrect things that ordinary people think.  In other words, his politically correct utterances aren’t out of the KKK playbook, they’re out of “the reasonable common-sense before 1960s Leftist education took over” playbook.

A week ago, he said that child labor laws are stupid insofar as they prevent children from getting paying jobs (including janitorial jobs) that would help them to maintain their own schools — at less cost, incidentally, than using unionized janitors.  His most recent utterance, expanding on this point, was that poor children have no work ethic:

“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday,” Gingrich claimed.

“They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of I do this and you give me cash unless it is illegal,” he added.

All the usual suspects are up in arms.  I haven’t bothered to hunt down quotations from the unions that keep schools supplied with janitors, but I’m sure they’re not happy.  More than that, though, Newt’s statements have been interpreted to mean that he advocates a return to 19th Century child labor, complete with seven-day work weeks, 12 of which are spent laboring in a coal mine.  Take a gander, for example, at this screen shot from YouTube after I searched up “Newt Gingrich poor children”:

Charles Blowhard, New York Times opinion columnist, is horrified that Newt might look at the way in which the poor behave and conclude that their learned behavior contributes to their poverty.  He also comes back with reams of statistics about the fact that the poor do work:

This statement isn’t only cruel and, broadly speaking, incorrect, it’s mind-numbingly tone-deaf at a time when poverty is rising in this country. He comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America’s most vulnerable — our poor children. This is the kind of statement that shines light on the soul of a man and shows how dark it is.

Gingrich wants to start with the facts? O.K.

First, as I’ve pointed out before, three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work. Half of them have full-time jobs and a quarter work part time.

Furthermore, according to an analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.

I’ll accept as true the fact that the poor work, but that’s too facile.  We also need to look at their attitude towards work.  As Shakespeare would say, there’s the rub.  Let me quote from a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, describing the way in which a white liberal tried desperately to explain away the fact that large corporations find it extremely difficult to keep minority employees:

Mr. Bookworm works for a very large corporation.  While we were in the car with the kids, the conversation turned to the exquisite sensitivity the corporation has to show when it’s faced with firing a minority employee. The process is arduous, requiring huge HR involvement, dozens of staff interviews and a lengthy paper trail.

The reason for this labor intensive firing is the unfortunate fact that minorities tend to be less satisfactory employees. As Mr. Bookworm was at great pains to point out to the children (and correctly so), this is a group trend and has nothing to do with the merits of any individual minority employee. It’s just that, if you look at a bell curve of minority employees versus a bell curve of white employees, you’ll find more white employees than minority employees in the segment denoting “good worker.” No modern corporation, however, wants a reputation as a “firer of minorities.”

The above are facts. What fascinated me was the different spin Mr. Bookworm and I put on those facts. Mr. Bookworm sent twenty minutes explaining to the children that, to the extent blacks were poorer employees, it was because their culture made them incapable of working. (This was not meant as an insult. He was talking, of course, about the culture of poverty.).

Mr. Bookworm painted a picture of a black child living in a ghetto, with a single mother who gave birth to him when she was 14, with several siblings from different fathers, with a terrible school, surrounded by illiterates, hungry all the time, etc.  No wonder, he said, that this child doesn’t bring to a corporation the same work ethic as a middle class white kid.

This creates big problems for corporations.  A modern corporation truly wants to hire minorities.  Once it’s hired them, though, according to my liberal husband, it ends up with workers who are incapable of functioning in a white collar, corporate environment. The corporation therefore finds itself forced to fire it’s minority hires more frequently than white or Asian employees, with the result that it’s accused of racism. Its response to that accusation is to proceed with excessive caution and extreme due diligence whenever a black employee fails at the job.

My suggestion to the children was that minority employees, aware that it’s almost impossible to fire them, might be disinclined to put out their best efforts on the job.  Why should they?  Logic and energy conservation both dictate that a smart person should do the bare minimum to get a job done.  In this case, for the black employees, the job their doing isn’t what’s in the job description.  Instead, their job is simply to keep their job.

Amusingly Newt thinks exactly the same as my liberal husband does.  They both blame black culture for poor black employment habits.  The difference is that, while Newt thinks it’s a fixable situation, starting with the children and their attitude toward labor, my husband, like Mr. Blowhard, thinks that all one can do is accept that minorities are going to be lousy employees.

America’s black poverty culture (as opposed to the Asian or East Indian) poverty culture is handicapped by a terrible, false syllogism:

  • Slavery was work
  • Slavery is evil
  • All work is evil

Even when they’re getting paid, too many African-Americans seem to feel they’ve sold out — that any work involving the white establishment is tantamount to slavery and that they can participate in this system by participating least.   It’s a principled stand, but it’s a principle that’s in thrall to terribly flawed logic and that ensures generational poverty and despair.  As far as I’m concerned, Newt gets serious kudos for his willingness to state what is, to the working class, quite obvious:  learn how to work well when you’re young, and you’ll be able to support yourself when you’re old.

The other one percent

The OWS people have made much of their pathetic status compared to the “wealthy 1%.” As I’ve mentioned before, this is a completely spurious argument, because it makes the 99% sound like a single homogenous lump all similarly situated to medieval serfs. Nothing could be further from the truth. In America, that 99% is a continuum, with subtle gradations from percentage to percentage.

The one thing America doesn’t have is a true bottom 1%. Yes, we have some homeless people, but they are not an economic block. Most are there because of brain damage, either organically or chemically caused.

This video shows what the real 1% looks like. It follows two young people in rural India with cleft lips and cleft palettes. The poverty is overwhelming and almost incomprehensible — yet there is hope, and love, and gratitude. It is an incredibly uplifting video. As you watch it, please consider something the OWSers don’t know or would prefer to forget: to the extent these damaged children in the bottom 1% in the back of nowhere are being offered normalcy and hope, it is the top 1% in America (plus the “evil” corporations), that provides the money that makes hope happen:

Smile Pinki from asg on Vimeo.

If this video doesn’t show, you can watch it here.

Minority employees and “making it” in America

Mr. Bookworm works for a very large corporation.  While we were in the car with the kids, the conversation turned to the exquisite sensitivity the corporation has to show when it’s faced with firing a minority employee. The process is arduous, requiring huge HR involvement, dozens of staff interviews and a lengthy paper trail.  

The reason for this labor intensive firing is the unfortunate fact that minorities tend to be less satisfactory employees. As Mr. Bookworm was at great pains to point out to the children (and correctly so), this is a group trend and has nothing to do with the merits of any individual minority employee. It’s just that, if you look at a bell curve of minority employees versus a bell curve of white employees, you’ll find more white employees than minority employees in the segment denoting “good worker.” No modern corporation, however, wants a reputation as a “firer of minorities.”

The above are facts. What fascinated me was the different spin Mr. Bookworm and I put on those facts. Mr. Bookworm sent twenty minutes explaining to the children that, to the extent blacks were poorer employees, it was because their culture made them incapable of working. (This was not meant as an insult. He was talking, of course, about the culture of poverty.). 

Mr. Bookworm painted a picture of a black child living in a ghetto, with a single mother who gave birth to him when she was 14, with several siblings from different fathers, with a terrible school, surrounded by illiterates, hungry all the time, etc.  No wonder, he said, that this child doesn’t bring to a corporation the same work ethic as a middle class white kid.

This creates big problems for corporations.  A modern corporation truly wants to hire minorities.  Once it’s hired them, though, according to my liberal husband, it ends up with workers who are incapable of functioning in a white collar, corporate environment. The corporation therefore finds itself forced to fire it’s minority hires more frequently than white or Asian employees, with the result that it’s accused of racism. Its response to that accusation is to proceed with excessive caution and extreme due diligence whenever a black employee fails at the job. 

I suggested to the children that something different than downtrodden black culture might be going on. Past generations of immigrants in America labored under the same handicap as the current generation of blacks (and, I guess, Hispanics).  Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians, Poles — no matter the label, you could spell out for them the same sorry tale Mr. Bookworm told about the hypothetical black kid, a story of poverty, parental illiteracy, poor schools, hunger, etc.

The difference, I told the kids, was that, back in the day, neither laws nor popular culture affirmatively protected these people. They were barred from the universities, banks, and law firms. Their response was to be better and work harder.  They carved out new industries (e.g., Hollywood.)  They made themselves more American than all the other Americans put together. They made their entrance into the mainstream a fait accompli.  

At this point, I interrupted myself to ask the kids a question:  You’re taking a class that you don’t really like, but you want to get an “A”.  Do you work as hard as you possibly can, or do you do the bare minimum to get by?  I got a resounding “Duh!” from both kids. “Of course you do the bare minimum.”

“Okay, then. Why don’t we give blacks credit for being smart, not helpless. Since they know that, once they’re through the door, it’s virtually impossible to fire them, why should they do more work than they have to?  Just as you wouldn’t work any harder for an ‘A’ than you need to in a class you don’t particularly like, why should they work any harder for job security in a job they don’t particularly like?  That’s not helpless thinking; that’s smart-allocation-of-personal-resources thinking.” 

And no, that doesn’t mean that all blacks are bad employees. There are a gazillion blacks out there who work hard because they want to, because they like to, or because it’s the right thing to do — which is precisely why whites work hard.  But there are clearly also a lot of blacks out there who neither like nor want to work hard, and they’ve figured out that a toxic combination of white guilt and fear of liability for workplace discrimination creates an out for them.  This doesn’t make blacks helpless and stupid. It makes them savvy marketplace consumers. 

The above discussion revealed another interesting difference in the way Mr. Bookworm and I look at the world. When I gave my Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italian, etc., example, Mr. Bookworm said that I was describing incrementalism, which has no validity today. 

What is “incrementalism”?  It’s the notion that success in Americ may be the work of several generations. This was the old pattern:  You, the immigrant, arrive at Ellis Island, illiterate, unable to speak English,  and a foreigner to the culture.  Unsurprisingly, you end up in a ghetto. Your children go to school.  They do not become CEOs, but they move into the working class — something that could never have happened in your own class-stratified, antisemitic or anti-Catholic or anti-Irish or anti-whatever home country. Your grandchildren thrn move into the lower middle class, or even the middle- or upper-middle class. In two or three, or maybe four, generations, your family has made it in America. 

Mr. Bookworm’s view is that this slow, upward trajectory is wrong. In today’s world, welfare, social policies and PC hiring practices should ensure that, not only is there a chicken in every pot, but every family should have a high level white collar worker just one generation out from poverty. I happen to believe that, while there will always be young people with drive and initiative who can make this leap, expecting it from the big part of the bell curve is ridiculous and impossible. Wrapping our educational, economic and social policies around this goal is a recipe for wasted money, ungainly government programs, personal failures, and class disappointment. In other words, it’s how we ended up with OWS. 

Is it true that the poor ye always have with you?

I have to admit that I don’t understand the “I am the 99%” shtick coming out of OWS.  If these people are saying that 99% of the country is poor, with only 1% holding the wealth, perhaps I don’t understand poverty as well as I should.  When I think of poverty, I think of this:

Slum outside Jakarta

or this:

A Favela in Brazil

or this:

East African Famine Victim

What I don’t think of when I think of poverty is this:

The computer crowd at OWS; photo by David Shankbone

or this:

Socialism is a good way to dump debt; photo by David Shankbone

or this:

Fit, bejeweled and spiritual at OWS; photo by David Shankbone

But in a peculiar way, those non-starving, non-homeless, non-refugee young people playing at being poor in cities across America have a point.  They represent some very specific — and sad — types of poverty.

To begin with, there’s the sense of poverty created by utterly ludicrous expectations.  We promised these kids that they were all “good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it!, that everyone would like them.”  We promised them that they were all number one, and that they would never need to make any actual effort to achieve that blue ribbon status.  We taught them, through MTV and computer games, that a 3 minute attention span is sufficiently long to be awesomely cool and win the game.  And, God help us, we taught them that a Womyn’s Studies, or Africana Studies, or GLBT Studies, or Oppressed People’s degree from some big name university would assure them the kind of job that would enable them to pay off $25,000 or $100,000 or even $250,000 in student loans.  We, the older generation, created this wealth of stupidity.

These young people also suffer from a vast intellectual and moral poverty.  One of the things that shines through when we interview the people taking to the streets is that so many are woefully ignorant, and that they wallow in a sea of relativism that allows for no morality other than that gained by intense navel gazing.  They are the antithesis of the original American revolutionaries, whose leaders were men of exceptional erudition and thoughtfulness, and whose followers knew at the very least their Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress.  Revolutionaries of old were shaped by philosophy, known science, literature, practical life experience, and a deep sense of morality and justice.  Today’s little park piddlers are shaped by an aching sense of unfairness, a terrible fear of human-kind (that would be the AGW shtick), and a morality shaped by Oprah and whichever fabulously rich Hollywood Leftist happens to grab the microphone on any given day.

These self-styled 99%-ers are not poor, not by any known standard, either today or in the history of the world.  They are intellectually and emotionally bereft, but otherwise awash in material benefits.

The fact that these posers aren’t poor, as poverty has traditionally been understood, does not mean that there aren’t poor people in America.  New immigrants are poor, although America quickly absorbs them and propels their children and grandchildren into the working and middle class.  Elderly people whose life savings have been destroyed by the Democrat economy are poor, and deserve our help.  Those who suffer from profound physical or mentally disabilities, through birth or injury, may experience great poverty, and they too deserve our help.  Those are traditional kinds of poverty and, true to Jesus’ word, we will always have these people with us.

Lastly, there is a unique kind of poverty, one that could only occur in America.  I know about this poverty because someone close to me dwells among these poor (although she is not quite of them), and reports back faithfully.  These are not people who are poor in the old-fashioned way.  They were not deprived of opportunities due to class distinctions, because we do not have a European-style class-based society.  Although most are profoundly ignorant, all had available to them the basics of an American public school education.  Living in the modern age, their lives have not been blighted by epidemic diseases (polio, rheumatic fever, mumps, measles, small pox, etc.), nor have their family structures been decimated by the mortality that ripped through the pre-modern world, leaving large numbers of children as half or full orphans.

What these people are is the self-inflicted poor.  For example, meet my friend’s neighbors:  there’s John, surviving on welfare and food stamps, who was a “tweeker” (methamphetamine user); Abby, who almost died from a month-long coma after a heroine binge, and now gets intermittent work cleaning houses, when her health allows; Ray, who is an alcoholic, and floats from one unskilled job to another; Shannon, who has three children, by three men, and has had all three children taken away by social services because of her drug habit.  Oh, and let me not forget Fred, who is homeless because he fried his synapses both with drugs and with the head injury from a drunk driving accident.  The only time he wasn’t homeless recently was when he spent two years in jail for statutory rape.  As my friend said to him, “You’re old, ugly and homeless.  The only reason a young girl hit on you was to get your drugs, and you should have known better.”

Again, Jesus was right that “The poor ye always have with you.”  No matter how much you perfect your society, you will still be dealing with human imperfection.  You will deal with the people who came from dysfunctional homes and continue that dysfunction (with or without help from social services); and with the people who came from totally normal homes (as did my friend) but who were inexorably drawn to a dysfunctional culture.  You cannot save them.  They willingly embrace habits that lead inexorably to poverty.  These are the HONDAs (hypertensive, obese, non-compliant, diabetic alcoholics), who suck up a doctor’s clinic time; the over-dosers who are rushed into ER while the kid with the broken arm (and insurance) sits in the waiting room; and the drunk drivers whose irresponsibility tears apart families.  They are the ones who crowd the welfare roles, live in parks, eat at the homeless shelters, and rotate through jails.  They are the imperfect ones.  We will always have them with us, and no amount of Leftist utopianism will change that reality.

History shows, though, that there is one solution to minimize the overall number of poor:  a free, capitalist society.  While there will always be the old, the sick and the stupid, our American experiment with freedom and capitalism creates sufficient plenty that even poor people, provided that they are functional poor rather than dysfunctional poor, can get sufficient calories, have housing, wear stylish clothes, carry a cell phone, watch television, etc.  A rising tide lifts all boats, even the smallest dinghies.

“For ye have the poor always with you”

Jesus Christ spoke the words that are the caption of this post.  As I understand it, he was speaking about the transience of his time on this earth, as opposed to some of the more permanent features of life on earth, such as poverty.

Even Christ, though, couldn’t have anticipated the fact that Barack Obama would rejigger poverty calculations in America to ensure that, no matter how much the American standard of living rises, a certain percentage of the American population will always be described as poverty-stricken:

This week, the Obama administration announced it will create a new poverty-measurement system that will eventually displace the current poverty measure. This new measure, which has little or nothing to do with actual poverty, will serve as the propaganda tool in Obama’s endless quest to “spread the wealth.”

Under the new measure, a family will be judged “poor” if its income falls below a certain specified income threshold. Nothing new there, but, unlike the current poverty standards, the new income thresholds will have a built-in escalator clause: They will rise automatically in direct proportion to any rise in the living standards of the average American.

The current poverty measure counts absolute purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy. The new measure will count comparative purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people. As the nation becomes wealthier, the poverty standards will increase in proportion. In other words, Obama will employ a statistical trick to ensure that “the poor will always be with you,” no matter how much better off they get in absolute terms.

My kids often ask me is “$X a lot of money?”  I always tell them that money has no fixed value. Things are worth what people will pay for them, and that the value of money is best calculated by people’s needs. To my kids, $100 is a lot of money; to Bill Gates, it’s less than chump change.

While there will always be people who have more money and people who have less money (and this is true even in ostensibly socialist countries where money is supposed to be irrelevant), the fact is that the best indicator of poverty isn’t money, which is variable, but standard of living.  The person who has food on the table, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head, is simply not poor as Christ, or the kid in Calcutta, would understand poverty.

This objective reality is obviously irksome to Leftists who need poor people to power their political anger engine.  There is no greater offense to their perpetual outrage machine than the fact that America is such a prosperous land that there are (thank God) very few on our soil who starve, go naked, and sleep in the open.  (And I’ll add that, if San Francisco is an example, many of those who do arrive at that state, not because America isn’t bountiful, but because of substance abuse problems.)  The only way to deal with the reality of America’s prosperity, clearly, is to play accounting games, aimed at creating a perpetual class of poverty-stricken individuals, people who, no matter their standard of living, will perceive themselves as victims, badly in need of government sustenance.

By the way, if you want to see what a permanent under class looks like, I can’t do better for you than to suggest that you go to Gerry Charlotte Phelps’ website, look at the left sidebar, and pick any chapter of her book about working with the perpetual poor.  Unlike the Ivory Tower sociologists currently wielding political power in D.C., Phelps has actually lived and worked in communities devastated by generations of poverty (often government induced), and has a lot of information and ideas.  By the way, don’t be put off by the fact that Phelps hasn’t updated her blog in a while.  She’s taking a hiatus from blogging and will return as soon as she can.

Forcing all of us to pay for others’ indulgent priorities

All of us have long known that poverty in America isn’t like poverty anywhere else in the world.  There really isn’t anything here comparable to the poverty in Haiti, or Calcutta, or large swathes of Africa.  Even poor people have televisions and phones.  And it’s apparent that a surprising number of people who are living on the thin edge economically still find money, not just for basic cell phones, but for fancy ones with lots of service; and are able to buy, not just basic clothes, but status conscious name brands.  Even when one is poor, one still makes choices.

Linda Halderman writes about some of the choices her patients made when she practiced in a low income clinic.  Either because they didn’t care, or because they knew or assumed that our system, which never turns people away at the ER, provides a safety net, many of them chose not to buy insurance but, instead, to invest in things that would affect the immediate quality of their lives:  high end transportation, fancy communication devices, cosmetic surgery, etc.  Being young and healthy, and having to make choices, they invested in their present, not their future.  The question Linda asks is, as to these people, the ones who can and do make choices, why should be, the taxpayers, be forced to provide them with essentially free insurance?

Individuals in this country have a right to decide how — and how not — to spend their money.

But that right does not include accepting entitlements without sharing responsibility. Doing so contributes to the high cost of care that burdens every unsubsidized patient.

If individuals prefer to buy luxury items rather than pay for their healthcare needs, that preference should not be rewarded while taxpayers struggle to foot their own bills.

Anger on the Left *UPDATED*

My father was a very angry man. At whichever job he had, he was pretty darn certain that management was out to get him. At stores, he knew he was being cheated. My mother always attributed this anger, not to the poverty and dislocation of his youth (placed in an orphanage at 5, refugee from the Nazis at 15, fighter in the RAF at 19), but to the Communism of his youth.

You see, my father grew up in the Dickensian Jewish slums of Berlin in the 1920s. Unsurprisingly, these slums were hotbeds of Communism and, while his mother was apolitical, his brother and sister were fervent Communists. Although they were much older than he was, they nevertheless managed to infect him with their political ideology, so much so that, while he eventually was a rock solid Democrat (until 1980) his world view was colored by the concept of class warfare — in his mind, anyone who was better situated than he was, was by definition out to get him.

My Dad and his siblings, therefore, were Communists in the perfect Marxist sense. They emerged from the underclass. They were genuinely downtrodden. The cards were completely stacked against them. Their class animus was understandable. It also made them very, very angry, and fairly dysfunctional in ordinary capitalist circumstances. His sister, indeed, was so hostile to Israel for adopting a mild form of socialism that she returned to East Germany to live in the Communist paradise. His brother was incapable of working in a capitalist system, or even a semi-socialist system, and ended his life in squalor, a low-level civil servant in Copenhagen, living in a one room apartment with his wife and child.

As for my Dad, he married my mom. My mom, too, had a life time of poverty and dislocation, but was never tainted by Communism. She is, indeed, to this day, perfectly happy with Capitalism in theory, although the fact that she was married to my father meant she never got to realize any real economic benefits from the system. Because of my Mom, my Dad completed his education, had children, and held down a job. He bought a home, and he became friends with rich people because, while we had no money, my Mom has class. He discovered that rich people, at least in America, weren’t evil parasites but were, in fact, very nice — and very hard-working. He moved right, so far, in fact, that he was one of the Reagan Democrats. I’m certain that he would be a McCain Demcrat too, were he still living. But he still would have been paranoid, convinced that the world was out to get him.

Believe it or not, there is a point to all of this biographical rumination and it’s anger. One could accuse my Mom of being guilty of amateur armchair psychology, with her certainty that it was Communism, not poverty, that fed my Dad’s anger. I think she’s right, though. We see even today that the Left is very, very angry. Despite the fact that life in America is, for most people, very good and certainly is, again for most people, better than it’s ever been at any other time or place in history, the Left sees America in only the grimmest terms. America is an evil oppressor. America intentionally hurts people. America lives to abuse people for racist reasons. You’ve seen DailyKos and the Democratic Underground and the HuffPo and the New York Times and the WaPo, and you know these feelings are out there.

What’s peculiar about this evil capitalist mantra is that it no longer emanates from the underclass. Think about the proponents of these theories: John Kerry, billionaire; Al Gore, multi-millionaire; John Edwards, multi-millionaire; Hillary Clinton, multi-millionaire; Nancy Pelosi, multi-millionaire; Jeremiah Wright, rich pastor moving into exclusive white enclave; the Obamas, products of America’s top education systems and, within the past few years, millionaires; Harry Reid, multi-millionaire; Barbara Boxer, millionaire. I’m stopping here, but you can add your own names to the list.

These people I’ve named are not, as my father was, social rejects who live in (or came from) squalor that is almost impossible to imagine now. They haven’t been kicked from pillar to post by the upper classes, nor have they been refugees, nor have they been denied opportunities. These people are the cream of the crop, the ones who have benefited most from America’s economic and educational opportunities. For those of us working gazillions of hours a week, holding two jobs, watching fuel prices tick up, wondering how we’ll pay for our children’s educations, and hoping no one gets seriously sick, they are the ones to be envied. They are the ruling class.

And yet every single one of the people I’ve named, and all of the similarly situated people I didn’t think of but that you did, share something in common with my down-trodden, refugee father — they’re really, really angry. So I have to think that this overarching, paranoid anger does not arise because of someone’s economic situation or their vertical position in the social hierarchy. Instead, my Mom was right all along: Communism, or whatever form of Leftism is currently in vogue, is attractive to those who are angry, and it breeds anger in those who otherwise might avoid that emotion.

And while anger is a universal trait, and clearly operates to help us survive in dangerous situations, those of us who have lived with chronic anger know that its long-term effects can only be harmful. For the angry individual, the results are ill-health, as the heart and guts rebel against the streams of bile flowing through the system. For the person living with someone angry, the downsides run the gamut from stress, anxiety and depression, to actual physical danger (a situation that my father, bless him, never created). And for those who live in a country powered by the angry, one sees political self-loathing, which leads suicidal behavior when it comes to both the economy and national security.

One of the things I’ve come to like about John McCain is that, while he definitely has a temper, that seems to be a generic trait. That is, he suffers from situational anger. He has what, in the old days, used to be called a quick temper. He is, in other respects, a sunny optimistic soul, and that despite his years as a POW. What McCain clearly lacks is the brooding, paranoid anger that characterizes the Left, and for that reason I believe that, his temper notwithstanding, he’d definitely be a sunnier presence in the White House than his embittered opponents.

I also think that Americans share McCain’s more sunny optimism. I can’t imagine that, over the long run, they’re going to be attracted to professional paranoids who live in the mansions on the hill, sucking every bit of wealth they can from the system, all the while castigating ordinary Americans for being greedy, embittered fools.

UPDATEHere’s something to chew on regarding the basic decency and optimism that characterizes John McCain.

Root causes

I wrote the following for American Thinker, and republish it here:

Root Causes

One of the hallmarks of the Left is its fervent belief that, if poor people behave badly, the fault is not theirs, but instead it lies with “root causes.” For example, a word search in the New York Times for “root causes and crime” returns over 100 articles from that newspaper alone.

A significant number of these Times articles, which were especially prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, have a politician arguing that, in dealing with crime, it’s pointless to punish the criminals themselves. Instead, it’s the government’s job to destroy crime at its root, a concept that invariably translates into pouring more money into social welfare programs. I’ve gathered a small collection of these articles. In each of them, I’ve emphasized a few key words, the significance of which I’ll explain below.

In 1987, New York Police Chief Benjamin War shocked the liberal establishment by stating one of New York’s dirty little secrets: Young black men were disproportionately responsible for the City’s crime. The liberals were quick to respond. Although they couldn’t deny the statistics, they placed the blame squarely where it belonged – on white society and ineffectual (Reagan-era) government:

Poor people historically have been more prone to commit street crime, and blacks are disproportionately poor (though most, of course, are law-abiding). Blacks are uniquely burdened with a legacy of slavery and violence. I. Blame is abundant. So are drugs. Opportunity. is not

[snip]

Unless root causes of crime are addressed, Mr. [Charles] Rangel said, “there will never be enough prosecutors, judges and courts or jails to sweep our secrets under the rug.” (Emphasis mine.)

Three years later, liberals were still singing the same root crime song. Here’s the lead from a 1990 article about Mayor Dinkins:

Mayor David N. Dinkins took his anticrime campaign on the road today as he lobbied here for stricter national gun-control laws and an all-out effort against “the root causes of crime,” including poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and growing despair. (Emphasis mine.)

Fast forward another four years, to the Gubernatorial election 1994, and you’ll see that Mario Cuomo, who was seeking reelection, still knew the words to that root crime tune:

For his part, Mr. Cuomo, especially in recent months, has spoken more about crime’s root causes, of draining what he has begun to call the “poisoned lake” of poverty, racism and lack of opportunity that many people believe is at the heart of violence. At the state trooper graduation in Albany, for example, he complained that “so far we have not discovered the cure for the greed, the viciousness, the despair that drives this traffic in drugs.” (Emphasis mine.)

I could come up with more examples, but I suspect you get the point: In Liberal land, as sure as night follows day, poverty, a lack of opportunity and despair add up to the dangerous pathology of crime.

Barack Obama, however, has taken the root crime concept to a whole new level, by adding pathologies that I suspect, to him, are far more dangerous than garden-variety felonies. Here is the infamous bitterness speech that Obama made before the very rich San Francisco liberals gathered to hear him at the Getty mansion::

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot of them – like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they’ve gone through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Obama’s much more verbose than the others I’ve quoted, but it seems to me he’s seeing precisely the same pattern that Dinkins, Cuomo and Rangel identified: Poverty creates bitterness, and bitterness creates dangerous pathologies.

There is a difference in the speeches, of course. As you see from the quotations, liberals of twenty years back were primitive enough to define as pathologies actual criminal activity (drug use, theft, assault, rape). Obama’s argument makes a dramatic break with that traditional by targeting as pathological, not crime, but standard American beliefs.

To that end, he explicitly says that the garden-variety root causes that have been part of political discourse for twenty years (poverty and despair), when visited upon primitive white Pennsylvanians, inevitably lead to the horrors of faith in God; a belief in the Second Amendment; and a pervasive sense that it is fundamentally unfair for illegal aliens to come waltzing into America so that they can hold American jobs, send their kids to American funded schools, get American healthcare, and dine (not well, admittedly) off of American food stamps.

Already back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was unimpressed by the way in which the “root cause” doctrine was being used to relieve people of any responsibility for their actions. I’m even less impressed with the bizarre new use to which Obama has put it. Nevertheless, despite the theory’s silliness, his making the argument does serve a purpose: While it tells us nothing about Pennsylvanians, it does give us another look into the mind of a man who has a profound disdain for the values that Americans have held dear for centuries.