Saturday, August 28, 2010

A first

I had to turn off C-SPAN.  Smarmy sleazeball hypocrite Ralph Reed was the featured guest.  All it took was about 3 minutes of his bloviating about morals and people of faith always doing the right thing and I was flipping to HGTV.  If I'd listened much longer, I might have lost my breakfast.

One of Reed's riffs was about the way government should just stay out of helping people, that everything was fine and dandy back when churches and private charities handled making sure the widowed and orpaned and handicapped didn't starve in the streets. 


Although he didn't go as far as Gingrich did back in the 90s (I have a vague recollection of the Newster advocating taking poor kids away from their parents and sticking them in orphanages), I kept thinking that any second Reed was going to wax nostalgic for the good old days of poor farms, county workhouses, and orphan trains. 

Reed did get me to thinking about the whole notion of the "deserving poor."  One reason the government gets involved in creating social safety nets, like disability payments or food stamps, is government can be impersonal.  The bureaucrat who makes you fill out the forms doesn't get to say Yes or No based on whether you're fat or thin, white or Asian, wearing denim and covered with tatoos or dressed in Dockers with a nice neat haircut -- it all comes down to what information goes on the form and your ability to provide the various pieces of required documentation (e.g., a completed "Proof of child in the home" form signed by a neighbor). 

The same isn't true of private charity.  Churches and individuals pick and choose the beneficiaries of their largesse based on subjective criteria -- we feel sorry for the poor sap in a wheelchair so we hand him a $5, we feel contempt for the apparently physically abled person standing with a "homeless please help" sign because we think that surely he or she could get a job.  We'll help a family that falls on hard times if they're members of our congregation; we'll ignore them if they're not.  One person in a community is diagnosed with a devastating disease and collection cans to pay his medical bills pop up at every gas station in town; another person suffers an equally disastrous circumstance, and the collective response is to ignore it.  What makes the difference in the response has nothing to do with the person's actual life story, how they happened to end up on a street corner panhandling, and everything to do with our visceral reaction when we first see them.

There was a reason government got involved in social services to begin with.  The private sector wasn't working.  Unfortunately, Reed and his ilk will never admit that.  

1 comment:

My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.