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At Christmas, Let Us Speak of Piles

By Bob Hooper
Opinion | December 17, 2011

uncle-sam-with-poor-woman-in-street-300px.jpgBOGUE, Kan. - Today, piles. No, not the physiological kind. Although the comparison will be useful.

What prompted this column was an unsolicited, anonymously authored email forwarded from an Ellis deep thinker. Well, maybe not so much. It goes like this --

A kindly (or smug, your choice) man accosts his neighbors' "little girl." Both parents, "liberal Democrats," stand by. He asks her what her goal in life is. Wants to be President, she says. Okay, the kindly-smug man asks her what she'd do. Give food and shelter to the homeless, she says. Her parents nod approvingly.

Kindly-smug man says, 'Wow. What a worthy goal. You don't have to wait until you're President to do that!" She can mow his lawn and pull weeds for $50 bucks. Then, he says he'll escort her to where the "homeless guy hangs out," so she can give him the $50 for "food and a new house."

Little girl thinks it over. "Well, why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do
the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"

Kindly-smug man says, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

Hoo boy, gotcha!

See, it's just that simple, right? Homeless and hungry people are all alike. Lazy bums won't work. Democrats (aka liberals, progressives, socialists, commies) don't get it. Right?

unemployment2.jpgYeah, well I know this homeless and hungry guy. Will is 59. Lost his good job.

Will's wife works part-time at a hamburger joint for minimum wage. Will works at the grocery store where he "hangs out." He makes 8 bucks an hour, no benefits. The last of three kids, still living with his parents, was a late arrival. Billy, Jr., has Down Syndrome and an IQ of 63. Will can't get health insurance now because of pre-existing conditions. He had triple bypass surgery a year ago. When he has time off he looks for work, but who wants to hire a 59-year-old? He has considered suicide. They're all living with his wife's uncle.

Wanda. Wanda's boyfriend gave her two beautiful kids and left. She's on welfare now, taking an out-reach composition class and enrolled in other classes, too. She wants to get certified as a nurses aide so she can go to work at the local rest home. Maybe get to be an RN. At best she's a C-minus student, and at age 32, not apt to get a whole lot better. She tells me she's embarrassed as hell to be on welfare, but she has to pay a baby sitter and have health care for the kids -- especially for the little girl who's sick right now. But what can she do.

Wanda says she could probably get some help with groceries at the local church food pantry, but is embarrassed. There's this one judgmental lady who always says something snotty. Wanda said she was at the grocery store counter yesterday; got some food stamps from her purse. Guy behind her mumbled none too quietly to the guy behind him. "Another damned welfare cheat."

"I about cried," she said. "I did when I got home. I'm just glad my kids didn't have to hear that. I try to go when there's nobody there but me." She gets their clothes at Goodwill.

Readers may decide for themselves whether Will and Wanda are real people.

No Democrat I know, liberal or otherwise, advocates helping those who could help themselves. Neither do I know any who doesn't believe there are people who desperately need a helping hand -- some for a month, some for a long time -- through no especial fault of their own. Yes, it would be great if there were no welfare cheats, but there are -- just not as many as the unexamined stereotype of some deadbeat "who hangs out at the grocery store" suggests.

big-business-profits.jpgOkay, let's talk piles.

Imagine for a moment that the money and goods stolen by actual, small time welfare cheats could somehow be raked into a common pile. Pile A.

Now, let us imagine another pile (one about which staunch, knee-jerk conservatives rarely talk) raked up to represent money and goods stolen. A pile for the big boys -- the CEO's and Wall Street banksters who socked it to us in 2008. One added to by backroom deals. One added to by tax loopholes bought by corporate lobbyists. One ripped off stockholders by inside traders. One ripped off by offshore tax-free bookkeeping on the Cayman Islands. One by private contractors stuffing their bottomless pockets in Iraq and Afghanistan. (We could go on). Pile B.

Compare piles.

A couple more to wind it up. First, emails like the one which inspired the column are physiological piles -- a pain in what the French call the derriere. And last, that pretty pile under your Christmas tree.

As you open presents, try to be a little less judgmental. It won't fill many empty stockings, but it might be a start.

Merry Christmas.


Bob, you and I have our differences of opinions on some things, but you and I see the same thing in the social recognition of the plight of most of those struggling to maintain their equlibrium in an unequal world of opportunity and reward. The cheats on the top end of our system cost society far more than the cheats on the bottom end. I would even risk helping 2 or 3 unworthy wards of welfare than risk denying 1 who is truly desperate and in need of assistance.

Bob--Having stood in the grocery line with food stamps, I can say I've been there. I'm not as thin-skinned as Wanda, though. I had worked and was still working--three jobs, in fact. My Republican dad was the person who told me to apply for food stamps because he had worked and paid taxes all his life and he didn't see any reason why his daughter and grandkids couldn't get some of that back. My main goal was to feed my three kids and I ignored any and all who made comments about my use of food stamps. I knew as soon as I got on my feet again after a divorce I would be able to pay my fair ahare in taxes again.

Now I send money to Episcopal Social Services to help feed the Wichita homeless. The homeless here include the mentally ill, the addicted, the military vets who came home broken people, the unemployed who never thought they would be in this position, familes who live in their cars with their dogs. How do I know this. I volunteered at ESS when it first opened in the '80s and saw first-hand who these people were. Of course, all the agencies serving the homeless and the poverty-stricken can't begin to meet the need.

As I've said before, we live in an upside world. When I heard recently that Glen Beck was earning approximately 31 million dollars a year at Faux while he criticized the poor for being poor, yet trumpeted his Christianity, I knew we were living in a crazy place.

You have said well what everyone needs to understand.

Glen Beck is one of those poor rich fellas that is suffering under the unjust burden of the progressive tax structure.

If we will just give him some relief, he will immediatly provide a job for someone. You think so?

He claims his Christianity. If he encountered Jesus and told him how he had obeyed all the commandments and wondered what else he might do, what would he do if Jesus suggested he start sharing some of his wealth with the poor?

I'm not here to judge Glen's Christianity. But I do need to observe what Jesus example showed and try emulating Jesus and his professed followers. It seems to me there is some conflict between Glen's and Jesus' examples.

One of my FB friends posted that story about the kindly-smug guy. I had to ask him why it was considered a victory in the right-wing community to be able to bamboozle a little girl with a strawman argument about how homeless unemployed people are really just lazy parasites. It says a lot the folks who think that story is deep, or clever, or whatever.

Thank you all for the comments. And, Dave, kudos for making the effort to respond to your FB friend. Too many of us let obvious propaganda slide by, and the sender often considers the lack of rebuttal an affirmation. Not good. The email propaganda machine is full speed today, and has an immense reach.

Sometimes I have to remind my conservative friends your very point, that there are plenty more people at the top mlking the system than at the bottom.

However I do disagree with the comment "No Democrat I know, liberal or otherwise, advocates helping those who could help themselves." I firmly believe that many a democratic politician has created a class of welfare dependants because they know these people will always vote for the big D come election day, especially when they can cast the republicans as evil doers for proposing to take away some of their freebees. Plus far too many people think everything should be given to them. Also I've been around many rich people from country clubs and executive functions and they have worked hard to get to where they are in life and despise how they are cast by many liberals as evil for making money. They pay their fair share in taxes plus give to charities.

Brad, you beat me to it.

"No Democrat I know, liberal or otherwise, advocates helping those who could help themselves."

That might be the howler of the year.

Thanks for the comments, Brad.

The point: " ..there are plenty more people at the top milking the system than at the bottom" Agreed.

I recently did a little investigating in Kansas. As I recall, the SRS estimated that no more than one pct. were "likely" welfare cheats. The stereotype that makes the email rounds would suggest otherwise.

The lower economic classes typically have a lower voting rate. And there's no evidence I'm aware of that that those who do vote, vote more often for Democrats than Republicans. In fact, a study from Columbia University suggested otherwise. "Why do the poor support right-wing parties? A cross-national analysis" http://www.yale.edu/leitner/resources/docs/huber-stanig.pdf

So if Democrats create a depended welfare class who will vote for them, it doesn't seem to work very well.Feel free to share your own sources.

Agreed, many rich people earned their wealth honestly, and are generous with what they earned. One might argue that the apparent generosity is because of tax write-offs. As to paying a "fair share" in taxes, nearly two-thirds of multi-millionaires agree they should be paying more. I think there's a recent study which found that, as a percentage of their wealth, poor and middle class people give more--but often do not make enough to itemize. But it's not about being wealthy, it's about fairness.

Again: the main point. You say it well. " ..there are plenty more people at the top milking the system than at the bottom"

On both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, there's too much quid pro quo--which is to say, money buying special favors bought by corporate lobbyists. Big favors. And today, given the effectiveness of negative campaigning, politicians with the biggest campaign money usually win because they win the propaganda war. Citizens United makes it far, far worse.

Merry Christmas.

I became a Democrat when I first registered to vote at age 21 because I wanted to be able to vote for JFK when he ran again. Of course, my hopes were tragically dashed by an assassin's bullet. I continued to be a Democrat, however, going against my family's tradition of Republicanism. It's telling that my parents registed as Democrats after the first Bush's first and only term as president. I have voted for Republicans and Independents on occasion, but the Democratic Party is the one in which I feel most at home.

As for government assistance causing dependency, that's a myth based on what people THINK they know about people who use government assistance. Government assistance didn't make me dependent on the government, except that since I've worked for government entities most of my working life, I guess I did become dependent in a way on government largesse. The Democrats I know, and I know many because I'm active in the Party, are hard working people and expect others to be hard working if they're able. They also believe that certain people might need a boost when they run into a wall. I've seen enough people, including some neighbors, become poverty-stricken after suffering heart attacks and other health problems. Yet, somehow most Republicans don't think those people are deserving of help.

I've also seen people lose jobs thanks to the transfer of our manufacturing work to other countries. Right now, Boeing, after taking a bootload of government subsidies and tax breaks and after depending on Kansas Congressmen to help them win a huge tanker contract, is apparently planning to move out of Wichita, leaving behind a well-trained work force with no work.

And don't tell me unions are at fault for this. Unions only make sure workers have a level playing field. Of course, workers will never have a level playing field with CEOs who take home millions and billions of dollars a year, thanks to the workers who produce the goods the company sells. No CEO is worth that much money.

While it's dangerous to make generalizations about one political party over another, when it comes to seeing that the little guy and gal gets a fair shake, I would say Democrats do a much better job than Republicans. But if people want to owe their allegiance to a party that values making sure CEOs get rich over making sure there are fair working conditions for the average person, then go right ahead.

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