Joe Marshall has completed his interview

Amusingly, Joe has (as I knew he would) taken my questions to him to be somewhat revealing of myself.

The only thing I was trying to reveal by my questions is that I resist intimacy and never pry too deeply into anyone’s personal life! :-) Arms length is just fine by me.

You can read his answers here.

He also has a new post, which for some reason Blogger won’t allow me to link to, wherein he provides photo-evidence of cruel poverty in America and recounts the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. Fire – which was interesting to me because part of my family lore is that a distant cousin was one of the victims of that blaze.

I was struck by the pictures (all of which, I do believe Joe has provided both as an answer to an inquiry made here from a commenter who wondered what “evil” Joe was convinced the GOP wishes to perpetrate on the country, and as some sort of admonishment toward me for being insufficiently ummm…aware…of the awfulness of poverty.)

What I think would surprised Joe very much would be a look at my family scrapbook, the ramshackle Coney Island cold-water flats my family lived in, the “best clothes” they wore which looked remarkably like rags. Both sides of the family were hardscrabble and under-educated because all able bodies had to leave school and go out and find work – any sort of honest work – to put the bread and milk on the table.

When people look at my family scrapbook, they usually gasp at the very obvious poverty, the ugliness of the hovel in which they lived, the lack of wherewithall. Shanty Irish, for sure. Greaseball Italian, absolutely. And yet, if you ask them, my family will say, “we never thought of ourselves as poor…this is what life was, you went out and got a job, you worked as a family unit to get by, and on Friday nights, you had a drink (beer for the Irish, wine for the Italians) and you sang a few songs and told a few stories, and on Saturday you washed and went to confession, and on Sunday you went to mass, and sometimes it would be the only day that week you might eat meat. But we didn’t think we were poor. We never felt as poor as these pictures make us look. There was a lot of joy.”

I have been poor, myself. When I lived on my own, in NYC, at a low-paying job, with rents skyrocketing, I lived through the weeks of mac and cheese and a purse that held only subway tokens, a few dimes and a bottle of clear nail polish I would use to try to make hose last longer. Was it easy? No. Did I go hungry once in a while? Yep. Was I miserable? Not at all. I had no resentment of the rest – I’ve never been a class-warrior. My situation was the situation I had. I knew it would get better, because I knew my own ability to work hard.

The poverty is not what makes misery. Hopelessness is what makes misery. My people were poor, but they didn’t think of themselves as poor, because they had family, they had hope, they had a belief in the future, and in grace. I was poor, but I never thought of myself as poor, or even as wanting. I suppose if someone had come along and told me I was poor, and that this was a terrible injustice, that must be changed, etc…I might have listened and been swayed. Or I might have wondered why this person would presume to know anything about me and my own mind, or how I felt about my situation.

And remember, at this time, I was a liberal and a Democrat. I didn’t think of my status as lowly…I did not think of myself as oppressed. I thought of myself as lucky to be employed and to have a place to live. I did not think of myself as a victim. I thought of myself as, “as good as anyone else.”

And I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

Christ said “the poor will always be among you,” and he was right. And He wasn’t being cavalier about it – suggesting that nothing should be done to help them. Quite the contrary. But he does recognise that poverty will always be a part of the human condition. Our response to it must be one part almsgiving, but also one part uplifting. It is not enough to toss a guy a buck. Tomorrow he needs another buck. Give him some dignity, a chance to hope about something, and he’ll go find a way to make his own buck.

I don’t worry about the materially poor folk half as much as I worry about the spiritually impovished folks – the people who think because a heterosexual actress speaks of her life experience from her own perspective they are somehow “disincluded.” THOSE people worry me. The people who have spent a lifetime never hearing the word “NO” and who attend a school of privilege, but who waste their time on such idiocy – all the while looking down upon someone like me, for what they IMAGINE me to be – (Greedyrepublicannazihaterintolerantinsensitve) they worry me. The people who look at Terri Schiavo, or the Pope and say, “get rid of ‘em, already!” THEY worry me.

The poor folk don’t worry me. They usually have their heads on right.

I talked to a priest last week, who works in Jamaica among the poorest people in this hemisphere, second in poverty only to Haiti. He came looking for funding, to build houses, educate and help feed these folks, and they’re doing terrific work. I was inspired and moved, and pledged not only money but other help as well, which I’d rather not expand on. He told me a story that says a great deal about poverty and the poor. It seems the older ladies of the mission spend two days a week working on the bags that the mission rice comes in. They spend 7 hours one day carefully unwinding every strand from the bag, into long strings. Then they spend 6 hours the next day taking that string and winding it into rope. The rope is sold in Kingston for 50 cents. Each rope, 13 hours of work, for 50 cents.

When asked why they even bother doing all that work for 50 lousy cents, these grandmothers respond, “this is paying work and honest work and it gives us dignity. You go tell them that we are not sitting around all day, drinking rum punch and smoking ganga. This is our dignity!”

I can’t speak to the reality of Joe Marshall’s life. By American standards he may well be considered “poor,” although truthfully “poor” in America is rich in many parts of the world. But showing me heart-tugging pictures of America 100 or 150 years ago is not going to move me, because I’ve got the pictures of my own family, and their testaments. Lots of people came to America and were poor and worked for corrupt men who exploited the workers – and that’s why unions were necessary.

Unions have long-since outlived their usefulness, though. I have good friends who are teachers, and I don’t wish to anger them, but when I saw – 8 years ago, that my son’s 6th grade teacher made $105,000 per year, while the kids were coming out of that school having spent more time being indoctrinated than educated, I had a problem with it. When I had to take off from work to MEET with that teacher, because his union didn’t allow him to meet after school hours, when it might be more convenient for working parents who did not work 6-hour days, I had a problem with that, too. I support good teachers, and think they should be well-compensated, but their unions are turning them into fastidious little weaklings, more concerned with protecting what they have – and getting more – than with educating our children. It is another sort of greed, and it’s born, this time, not of the corporations, but of the unions.

Is America perfect? No. Are corporations greedy? Sure. So are the stockholders who increasingly come from the middle class, so are the workers who want as much money as they can earn. Is there poverty? Yup, certainly there is. To all of those truths I say: So what? This is the world, as it has ever been, and sitting there crying to me about the injustice of it all is just a way to feel noble ab
out yourself.

Occasionally I drive to Montauk fora day-trip, to take in the breezes. This summer, I could not help but notice that the people snapping up the last of the private beaches and erecting 6 foot walls around their property to keep out the lesser beings all had pro-Kerry or Anti-Bush stickers on their brand new BMW’s and Mercs.

And the darker skinned people who were waved thru the gates with their paint buckets and copper plumbing had Bush stickers on their beat up trucks.

As I said, the poor usually have their heads on right.

One of the things I have learned, as a conservative, is not to make assumptions about what someone else does or does not know. Just as I took real umbrage at a suggestion that my unusually aware and generous sons did not understand what aging in America involved, I do get a bit annoyed when it is suggested to me that I am insufficiently informed on the realities of poverty, or that I am somehow callous or indifferent. I feel no need to put my “Sensitivity CV” out there for the world to judge. I would suggest that – without reference to Joe Marshall, himself – many liberals who cry the crocodile tears for the poor, and shake their fists at the “cold” Republicans, have no idea what the hell they’re talking about, as they drive by in their toney cars. But at least they “care.”

I would also suggest that those who charge the Bush administration and the Republicans with looking to widen the divide between the rich and the poor – or who ludicrously suggest that the poverty of 130 years ago is right around the corner and that it is somehow DESIRED by Bush et al – take a look at how incredibly wrong they’ve been on every turn with regards to this administration. Bush is always wrong, wrong, wrong, and stupid, stupid, stupid, and motivated by evil, evil, evil, and yet things seem to keep breaking exactly as they should…which means, in DU parlance, I guess, that he is merely lucky, lucky, lucky.

Or maybe he’s not lucky. Maybe he simple sees, as Chesterton saw, that if one is only standing in one spot, looking at things from one angle, one may never understand that one lives in a glorious castle. It takes moving about, moving away from the place in which you begin, that helps you to see the totality of a thing.

Everything is in constant flux. Nothing is static except, it seems, the thinking on the left. Things keep moving and changing, but the thinking from the left does not, which is probably why they find themselves with absolutely no ideas to offer on any of the issues of the day, and wait in hope for some spectacular US failure, to give them some weight and momentum.

I suggest that – just as the situation in the Middle East looks very different today than it did even 6 weeks ago – the American economic situation – itself in flux – will look markedly different in 6 years. And all the doomsaying and crying may well have to be bottled up and shipped to some other “issue” for uncorking and continued bellyaching.

About Elizabeth Scalia