No Longer Blinded by the Right

“It’s not fair that you get a free lunch when my mom has to work to pay for mine.”

That’s what I told a classmate at age 10.

In this view I was like a lot of conservatives.

In his book, Why Americans Hate Welfare, Martin Gilens found that while most want to fight poverty, many don’t like welfare, feeling the recipients are lazy and undeserving.

George Lakoff studies how language affects the mind. He says conservative morality is based on the notion that people should have “liberty to seek their self interest and their own well-being without worrying or being responsible for the well-being or interest of anybody else,” especially since — in their view — welfare fosters a “culture of dependency.”

All we need is equal opportunity, right?

Until taking a high school course taught by a conservative economist and a liberal political scientist, presenting opposing views, I had thought that equal opportunity meant that everyone was free to get a job.

Turns out, there’s not an even playing field.

A poor child sits in class but can’t read the chalkboard or a book because she needs glasses. Or she can’t focus on her studies because of a toothache. Or she can’t concentrate because she’s so hungry. If she’s not white she’ll likely face racial discrimination, too.

This little girl is less likely to learn, graduate and work, becoming a drain on society instead — whether through welfare or crime.

How can she get proper nutrition and health care so that she can get a decent education? Taxing those blessed with more is an obvious route. After all, it’s not fair that some kids are lucky enough to have rich parents and all the advantages that brings.

Republicans say tax cuts for “job creators” (the rich) will cure everything, including the economy. Even though businesses don’t hire just because they have extra money on hand. Really, businesses hire out of increased demand from consumers – who would have more money to spend if tax cuts were focused on the middle class. And if jobs for teachers, police, firefighters and people who build infrastructure were brought back.

But if those with more are unwilling to pay a bit more in taxes, how can poor kids get a shot at success?

Some suggest charity. But even with all the charitable giving little children still go hungry and go without healthcare. And go without educations.

So I moved leftward.

And so did Jeremiah Goulka, a former conservative strategist. As he explained in a post he wrote for and reposted in Common Dreams:

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.  I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it).  It explains why study after study shows – examples herehere, and here — that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.

When I scolded my young classmate with a free lunch ticket I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t fair that I was lucky enough to have parents who could feed me.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 26, 2012, in feminism, politics/class inequality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Once in a while, I find myself shaking my head when I think about welfare. To me, there’s always negativity attached to it. No amount of convincing will make look the other way. Yes, unfair is the right word for it. I used to have neighbors who came to this country as refugees. They looked healthy and young but they have no jobs and get to stay home all day, watching their chickens and garden grow. I asked myself this, “Why do they get to sleep in everyday and stay home while I have to get up at dawn, go to work and make a living? Life is so unfair! Blah…blah…blah!” Well, times have changed and so did my beliefs and frame of mind. I now have a deeper understanding of society and of life in general. And how lucky am I to have a job that enables me to learn and experience new things and not suffer the monotony of being in the house all day, being complacent. That definitely will drive me crazy!

    • Yeah, I used to think that people were on welfare because they were lazy. Maybe a few are but for the most part we don’t have equal opportunity in this country. Most people want to work because it is so hard on your self-esteem to be on welfare.

  2. Stephanie Masina

    This topic was very crucial in my school ages. I was the student that got the free lunch and was always wondering why is it that not everyone can get free lunch but then I realized real life there’s different sets of people. There the middle class poor class and high class and my family I believe is in the poor stage. I was always jealous of those students that got everything hat they wanted and needed. While all I got was free food at school. It’s hard my parent had to try REALLY hard to get all the things I needed. This problem is still going on and I wish that this society could just change and treat everyone equal because we are on this world and it thought America was about equality. Confuzeing KIDS !

  3. Nice little straw man you have there.

    As a libertarian/conservative, I certainly do not believe in seeking my own self interest “without worrying or being responsible for the well-being or interest of anybody else.” Quite the contrary: I have a religious obligation to help others, most especially the poor.

    However, I see nothing in the Constitution that authorizes the United States government to act as a charitable organization. Indeed, the idea of “forced charity” strikes me as an oxymoron. Yet that is exactly what we have when the government taxes persons who work for a living and gives the money to persons who did nothing to earn it.

    • Straw man?
      1) George Lakoff’s definition comes out of his research on conservative and liberal ways of seeing. At the least it is an attitude that is very commonly found among conservatives, including myself at one point.

      2) Even if you give to charity, the average rate in the United States is only about 4%, meaning that many will go without in lieu of taxes. So in effect, you don’t really care about others’ suffering and you’re back to Lakoff’s definition.

      You’re also looking at the question of who has freedom from the eyes of the powerful and privileged, not from the eyes of the underprivileged and powerless. In this, I look at morality and the notion of being “forced” from the perspective of “Who is harmed?”

      If those who have plenty are “forced” to give some money to help those who are impoverished then how are they hurt? They may not be able to afford (depending on their wealth) a second house or boat or a fancy vacation.

      And what about the child who is “forced” into hunger and poor health because her parents cannot afford to feed her or give her medical care? How is she hurt? She — looking at social patterns — is likely to be hungry and in poor health, with little education or hope, ending up in poverty, with very little liberty to live her life as she would choose.

      [And the United States will be worse off, to boot: higher crime, lower sales revenues. See this from Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and a former chief economist of the (“Milton Friedmany”) World Bank who says extreme income inequality, as we’re getting in the U.S., hurts economic expansion (no one has $ to buy stuff — so low profits/low hiring) and critiques Romney/Ryan for staying too close to Bush policies that led to economic decline.]

      • Let us assume that you are right that I really don’t care about others’ suffering as much as I think I do. Let us further grant that you are more compassionate, more generous, and better informed than I am.

        Even so, you leave unanswered some practical questions.

        For instance, when you say that some people should pay “a bit more in taxes,” I am left to ask, Who should pay more? And how much more should they pay?

      • I’ll go with Obama’s plan: go back to the Clinton tax structure under which the U.S. was ridding itself of the deficit and the economy was going pretty well. + Payroll taxes on all income (not just first $150K or whatever it is). Get rid of tax shelters and loopholes (including 15% capital gains rate) under which the wealthiest pay less than I do.

      • Are you also willing to go back to Clinton-Gingrich spending levels? If not, then fiddling with the tax structure will do little to reduce the deficit—and may make it much worse.

        Increased taxation of incomes over $1 million, at whatever rate, simply cannot cover the current spending of the United States government, much less the higher levels of spending that statists advocate. There are not enough high income earners to carry the load.

        Excessive taxation can, however, act as a drag on the private economy, making us all worse off.

        Moreover, increased government welfare spending may not be the panacea for poverty you seem to think it is. Since the Great Society of the 1960s, the United States has spent some $19 trillion on means-tested federal welfare programs (not including Medicare and Social Security)—about $1 trillion in 2011 alone. Yet we continue to hear laments such as yours that the government is not doing enough for the poor.

        Could it be that no amount of government spending will ever cure the problems you decry?

      • “Could it be that no amount of government spending will ever cure the problems you decry?”

        Well, that would be convenient, wouldn’t it? If government spending on the poor didn’t help the poor then you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not wanting to help them.

        Too bad for you, you’re wrong. A few examples:

        Social Security has halved the poverty rate of elderly Americans. Without it, 19.8 million more Americans would be poor. Even Paul Ryan would have been poor after his father died. ryan

        Without Medicare my mom — and many other elderly people — wouldn’t be able to afford medical care.

        The Earned Income Tax Credit has lifted about 6.3 million people out of poverty, including about 3.3 million children. It’s good for the economy, too, as it works as a stimulus.

        Teens who live in households where food is scarce suffer academically, but studies have found that government programs that provide meals in schools can reverse this effect, breaking the cycle of poverty. Here’s one report:

        Here’s a study on the impact of poverty on educational outcomes for children, which includes effects of hunger and medical care on kids’ education. It’s cheaper to deal with the matter at the childhood level rather than deal with the negative adult outcomes: prison (police, courts too), teen pregnancy, welfare.

        On reducing the deficit, interesting that you chose to make a straw man argument. All we need to do is what Clinton did. He reduced the deficit year after year. And I never said anything about reducing it only through tax increases. You would need some combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

        The economy was great under Clinton, too, despite tax rates that were higher than under the Bush debacle. Also, the country tends to do better economically under Democratic than Republican control.

        I volunteer with an anti-poverty group called RESULTS. We meet with our members of Congress a couple of times a year, including going to Washington DC every year, so I know the poverty issue pretty well. See

        While anti-poverty programs help a lot of people, we could still do more — hence the constant laments from people like me. And why I work with RESULTS. Because I think it’s more important that kids get a shot in life than that some rich dude has a helicopter pad on top of his penthouse and can eat burgers filled with gold.

  4. Well done! I grew up in one of he poorest neighborhoods in America, without parents, and straddling the civil rights movement. Trust me, there is nothing more debilitating than knowing you’re smart and talented but unable to push back the barriers that keep you from succeeding (lack of eduation, finances, employment, and healthcare). I was able to do so because the door of opportunity opened up a sliver due to the Civil Rights Act opening up educational opportunities. My mother and aunt were forced to remain maids and both lost their minds (both worked 2 to 3 jobs at a time) when they couldn’t support their families. Contrary to popular belief, poor people are some of the hardest working people I know. I know caused I’ve been there.

    Thanks for such a strong and affirmative post.

  5. Once more, I reblogged. My blog on books is including more and more articles from you it seems.

  6. Reblogged this on humanitysdarkerside and commented:
    Once again, Broadblogs has posted an article that I agree 100%. The world is unfair. I am privileged and live in a country where water is over-flowing while others die of thirst. How is that fair?

    Not only that. I live in a country that thus far has been lucky enough to have harvested the income necessary to keep Norway out of the financial crisis that has hit so many other countries hard. While we here in Norway are doing fairly well, people are having to move in with their parents again, losing their jobs and not able to pay their debts. How is that fair?

    Even here in Norway there is plenty of unfair stuff. My children are lucky and have parents who are fairly well educated and who are lucky enough to be finished with our debts. They have grown up with safe and boring parents. How can this be fair, when children here in Norway live in difficult circumstances and lack the opportunities that our children have?

    I have a son that struggles with severe anxiety problems. How is that fair, when others don’t?

    Life is a joke. It really is. Most of all it isn’t fair, not for anyone. We do not deserve our lives, we just have them. That is all. Luck of the draw.

  7. Great post. The older I get the more and more I realize that all people are not afforded the same opportunities.

  8. What an excellent post! A perspective that many fail to see from.

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