The imagery is cliché. A dilapidated trailer, the roof held down by tires, a family of four living inside. Mother waits tables. Father struggles at bottom-of-the-barrel jobs. They’re on food stamps.
And they hate lazy, no-good mooching welfare queens.
Something in the American psyche loathes those who are one increment below our station in life.
That’s probably why some Idaho Legislators loathe salamanders.
I was reminded of this cultural nuance by a recent Facebook post from a woman in her 60s with no health insurance and who struggles to find a job because of her age. After describing her troubles, she said, “I insist that if people are on welfare, they should have to pass a drug test.”
Instead of proposing that Idaho expand Medicaid to bridge the coverage gap or suggesting job retraining programs for older Americans, this well-meaning but misguided woman did what the far right has trained her to do. Look one rung down the ladder and vilify those who are there.
Conservatives in this country have a strange relationship with the poor. They like to depict themselves as coming from humble beginnings, but they also like to cast dispersions on the people who are there now.
Take Sen. Joni Ernst’s rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday. She told a story of being so poor her family couldn’t afford to buy her a second pair of shoes. On rainy days, her mother put bread bags over her sneakers.
“But I was never embarrassed,” she said, “because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.”
Ahh yes. The good ole’ days, when being poor was fun.
Progressives hear that story and cringe. We’d prefer a society where children aren’t one rainstorm away from bare feet.
Meanwhile, conservatives say it builds character.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has a similar story. He had to skip more than a year of school to work the family farm after relatives were maimed in farm accidents.
“It was a lot of work,” he said, “but I learned a lot about myself.”
By the way, his family lost the farm to medical bills. But you don’t hear Butch Otter complaining.
Hardship is good for you.
It builds character. Who needs the government to mitigate bankruptcy, injury and poverty when those are the things that make America great?
Yet not all suffering is the same. That family that struggles to get by – they need to work harder and quit whining. That multinational corporation that has to pay marginally higher taxes – well that’s real suffering. Fortunately for the corporation, there’s a cavalcade of politicians to comfort it.
That poor little conglomeration.