Gershom Gorenberg: “Republicans and the ‘Quality of Sodom’”
A couple of strangers show up in town. In the previous chapter they had arrived at the tent of Abraham, who hurried to put out the best meal he could provide. His wealth, he understood, was merely a trusteeship, something he’d been granted in order to share. In Sodom, the mob comes to get the strangers and the bleeding-heart liberal who tried to put a roof over their head. The threatened gang-rape is the means of aggression, not the point of it. Sodom is the original ungodly city, whose customs are the opposite of the justice that Abraham will teach his descendants.
Lest you think that Sodom was only stingy with outsiders, an ancient rabbinic tradition (preserved in Breshit Rabba) explains why the divine inquiry commission was sent to investigate the city in the first place: Sodom had a law against giving to the poor. This is meant as hyperbole; the point is that “what’s mine is mine” was public policy in Sodom.
Sodom, in short, was a polis run by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, where redistribution of wealth was regarded as immoral, where government had the responsibility to protect private property but not to insure the well-being of the people. Upstanding Sodomites would not have accepted a decision by the city elders requiring them to put coins in the kitty to pay healers who might treat people besides themselves. They would have argued that “I’m responsible for myself and I’m not responsible for other people… I should get the fruits of my labor and I shouldn’t have to divvy it up with other people.” The city elders would not have asked people to pay for more teachers to educate other people’s children, and certainly not to pay for food for those who couldn’t afford it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in Sodom there would have been no problem passing the Ryan budget plan.
I imagine that at some point or another all of us who aren’t poor have decided which items poor folks, especially those on government assistance, should be allowed to have. And which items they should be denied. Fancy rims have been known to set me off. Maybe for you it’s gold teeth, Air Jordans, the latest mobile phone. City Councilwoman Stacy Head used her taxpayer-funded phone to send an outraged email when she saw a woman using food stamps to buy Rice Krispies treats. What right do the poor have to sweetness?
I could try to defend myself and say that I think it’s ridiculous for anybody in any income bracket to buy rims, but that’s rather beside the point. I’m not my best self when I’m sitting in judgment and managing other people’s money, and I doubt you’re at your best when you do.
The idea that most people in public housing are living the lush life has persisted for at least as long as presidential candidate Ronald Reagan started using the offensive “welfare queen.” But you ought to take a walk through the Iberville if you think its residents are living like royalty. Walk through and see if you’d exchange their thrones for yours.
The sight of a kid in public housing with an iPad doesn’t offend me. Actually it gives me hope. So many poor people have no access to the digital world. They fall behind in school because of it. They miss the opportunity to apply for certain jobs. Yes an iPad is an expensive gadget, but we can’t deny its usefulness. As computers go, an iPad comes cheaper than most laptops and desktops.
It might help to think of poor people as being as fully human as everybody else and as no more or less flawed.
Melissa @ Permission to Live: “Why I used to be afraid of Universal Health Care”
I was afraid of Universal Health Care, because I knew nothing else but what I had been told by religious propaganda and conservative think tanks. They repeatedly spread the idea that Universal Health Care took away all choice. I was told that people were assigned doctors, and were not free to choose a different doctor. I was told that older people were denied health care and left to die because they were not a priority to the national interest. I was also told that abortion was pushed heavily on any woman who had an unwanted pregnancy or women who were pregnant with a child with disabilities. I was told that people with disabilities would be eliminated by government encouraged abortions or possibly even killed at birth (they wouldn’t want those people on the federal dole since they would “waste money” and “drain the system.”) Universal Health Care was often tied in my mind to places like China with their one child policy, places where the choice to have a large family would not be tolerated.
When I moved to Canada at the age of 23, and was forced to experience Universal Health Care and found that it was actually a good thing for pretty much every person I came in contact with, I began to question what else I had been told could be misinformation. Even the very conservative people I came in contact with in Canada were happy with their Universal Health Care. In Canada large secluded religious sects had all their health care needs met by the government and had no problem with that. ***The stuff I had been fed was purely propaganda.*** There was no cap on how many children you could have, no older people left to die, no forced abortions or elimination of special needs people. Even when Canadians complained about wait times and talked of maybe running to the states to get a service faster, after finding out that it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket, most chose to wait instead. … The system wasn’t perfect, but it was a decided improvement on what I had observed and experienced in the USA.