The Right Opinion

He Said, I Said

By Burt Prelutsky · Jan. 19, 2013

Every day, I respond to email I receive from my readers. Most of it is positive, which I appreciate, but would probably be of little or no interest to anyone but me. Some of it is negative, consisting solely of insults, and is, likewise, of little interest to anyone, including me.

However, every once in a while, I hear from someone who actually addresses issues I’ve raised, and there is always the chance that such readers are raising points that other people would like to have addressed.

It is for that reason that I am sharing the following exchange. I don’t know who the person is or even if it’s a man or woman, but for our purposes, it really doesn’t matter. In response to a recent article titled “What’s Meant When Liberals Say ‘Compromise,’” it began: “I find myself a bit confused by this article. Though the headline implies a rather tight focus, you cover fiscal cliff negotiations, guns, welfare, the ACLU, felons, and – for good measure – a brief review of a film that has nothing to do with compromise.”

I replied: “I try to cover a lot of topics in every article. Therefore, titling a piece is rather difficult. But at least part of the article dealt with compromise. Consider everything else a bonus.”

“The ‘nitwits’ on the left may be off-base on a great many things,” the person went on. “Unfortunately, you are wrong in asserting that the final deal was not a compromise in their eyes. It may not have been as much of a compromise as you would have found satisfying, but a $400,000 threshold is not the same as $200,000. Nor is a 40% estate tax a 45% estate tax (the original number desired by Democrats). You can say you don’t like the deal or that Democrats didn’t cooperate enough, but you can’t factually say there was no compromise.”

I replied: “If one side is totally opposed to raising taxes and the other side changes its numbers around, that’s not my idea of a compromise. What you suggest is like saying that one side, for example, was in favor of invading Iraq and the other side opposed it, so the compromise would have been to invade Ireland.”

“Additionally,” the lecturer went on, “you are drastically simplifying the reality of welfare in America. Since I work in community development, perhaps I can clear some things up. Generally speaking, any sort of public assistance comes with strings attached: with welfare, it is often employment or an effort to find something therein (in addition to income thresholds that you would find completely unlivable were you made to live at or below them). There is also a lifetime cap on the welfare assistance that any one family can receive. Additionally, those in poverty and on public assistance are not homogenous as you seem to assume. There are many Republicans on public assistance, including welfare.”

“Of course,” I responded, “it goes without saying that everyone on welfare is not identical to everyone else. But when dealing with several million people, one has to generalize in order to make a point. But what is this lifetime cap you refer to? If there were such a thing, you wouldn’t see generations of families collecting welfare. Obama even decided to scrap Clinton’s work programs because the mere notion of requiring anything of welfare recipients was regarded as heartless.”

“The problem with the conservative ideology is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s only right for those people like you. Unfortunately, many Republicans haven’t left their bubble of privilege long enough (if at all) to understand the reality of living outside it. Those who have made something out of nothing tend to believe similar opportunities exist for everyone in poverty; unfortunately, the reality is that life in poverty is a game of chance, much more so than a life of security. I guarantee you there are people you believe to be unproductive who work much harder than you do for significantly less money.”

“The only thing wrong with conservative ideology is that people like you and those who are, say, the third or fourth generation of their family on the public dole don’t accept it. How does someone who works much harder and for less money than you presume I do wind up on welfare for any length of time? Even a minimum wage job would gross someone about $16,000-a-year, and there are precious few jobs that only pay a minimum wage. On top of that, if people get a high school diploma, avoid getting hooked on drugs and refrain from having kids until they’re married and can afford to raise them, they are pretty much guaranteed a welfare-free life. And, frankly, that doesn’t strike me as too much to ask of anyone.”

My critic went on: “Liberal ideology doesn’t work for everyone either. I do believe, however, that those making over $450,000 can easily contribute more of their salary without ending up anywhere near the desperation and suffering that comes with living at welfare-eligible income levels. Before you rail on about personal responsibility, let me direct you to the previous paragraphs where I explain that welfare is not given freely to anyone who wants it, not even those in poverty.”

I replied, “You have no idea how easily people earning $450,000-a-year can contribute. You also don’t know what sacrifices they made in order to achieve that level of success. That sounds like a lot of money to you and me, but if the family has children in college and perhaps aging, ailing, parents who require help, maybe it’s not so much. Besides, you’re not speaking about ‘contributions.’ If you were, we would be discussing charity. And as you probably know, conservatives donate far more money, as well as time, to charities than liberals do. Instead, you’re referring to money confiscated by the government in order to carry out Obama’s oft-stated desire to redistribute wealth. On top of that, the wealthy are already paying more than their ‘fair share’ because we have a progressive income tax. Frankly, I would say that it is the low-earners who are not paying their fair share. It is my conviction that everyone should have some skin in the game. For, as Obama would say, if only he weren’t a left-wing gasbag, they, too, use America’s streets and bridges. At the risk of being labeled a stony-hearted Republican, the idea that people who pay nothing and yet get to vote for those who get to decide what everyone else has to pay is immoral, not to mention loony.”

“I agree with you on guns and unions,” my critic said in his/her summation, “but unfortunately I can’t comment on your stint as a film critic because I haven’t seen ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Your problem is not that you’re wrong. It’s that you seem to be ignorant. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of this from the Right on this topic. Utilizing common tropes and stereotypes as you did above, one is able to dehumanize the poor and call for cuts to programs that benefit many hard-working people with a great deal of potential.”

“How is it,” I asked, “that we have lived in a welfare state for decades now, have funded Head Start, promoted Affirmative Action, spent trillions of dollars on welfare, expanded food stamps to include roughly 15% of us, and provided people such as yourself and Barack Obama with a living in a nebulous field known as ‘community development,’ and have yet to see any positive results? In fact, even after all of Obama’s efforts in Chicago and as president, what good has any of it done? Chicago is even worse off than it was 30 years ago, and so is America. We have an actual 11% rate of unemployment, a $16.4 trillion debt, a lower credit rating, a depleted military, a devalued dollar, soaring inflation and an additional 15 million Americans on food stamps. My suggestion is that you worry about those people, most of whom seem determined through their irresponsible life decisions to remain poor, and I will worry about those of us who are being compelled to support them.

"In conclusion, let me just say that you could be right that one of us is ignorant, but I’ll leave it to others to decide which one of us it is. Regards, Burt Prelutsky. p.s. I grant that it could well be me. After all, of the two of us, I’m not the one drawing a government salary.”