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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...

I've always described myself, politically, as a "militant moderate, with contrarian and libertarian leanings." I tend to be suspicious (at best ) of idealogues, as they tend to be a bit extreme for my tastes. I have a strong pragmatist tendency, where I tend to look at a situation and find myself not choosing between Right and Wrong, but trying to find the Least Worst option.

Back during the 2000 presidential primary, I had to choose between which party to vote for. Bush had the Republican nomination pretty much sewn up, so I decided to vote Democratic. I had a generally posiitive opinion of Gore from his 1992 run, but he'd thrown away all my good will with his complicity and cheerful endorsement of the worst of the Clinton years -- I felt he'd sold out his own principles while with the despicable Clinton administration. So I voted for Bill Bradley, who struck me as a sensible, honest type. And when the real election came around, I held my nose and voted for Bush over Gore.

In 2004, it was a much easier choice for me. I'd favored McCain over Bush in 2000 because Bush struck me as a political dilettante, with no real idea about what to do after being elected. 9/11 had changed that, given him a purpose and a record to run on, and I was comfortable voting for him again. Kerry, on the other hand, struck me as all that I had feared Bush was in 2000, with his few convictions almost diametrically opposed to my own.

What I'm trying to get at here is that one of the main drawbacks, as I see them, of the idealogues, the extremists, is the "all or nothing" mentality. They consider the notion of "the perfect is the enemy of the good" a heresy. They'd rather pass on the half a loaf and starve while fighting for the whole loaf.

I'm seeing this a lot more along the left than the right, but that very well could be my own tunnel vision. A while ago Kos announced that the Democratic Leadership Council had committed what he considered "heresy" (he meant striking the middle ground, but given his record and theirs "winning elections" could also qualify as unforgivable offenses) and vowed to destroy them. Luckily for those poor doomed souls, a couple of hurricanes came along and persuaded Kos to magnanimously stay his awesome wrath.

And just a week ago, I praised a George Will column where he outlined three simple rules that, if followed, will help a great deal of people avoid or escape poverty. I added a fourth I'd heard elsewhere, and other readers added their own.

Now, Will clearly stated that these weren't guaranteed to work in all cases. I agreed with that, and went further -- I specifically said I'd followed them, and was still poor. But they were a damned good starting point, and would serve most people well.

That wasn't good enough for everyone, it seems. The certifiably-loony but occasionally entertaining (in a train wreck sense) Don Myers had to add his own list of further "guidelines" to the mix. "Don't get born a minority member in a poor part of a corrupt nation" seems to be the gist of it.

Don misses my point entirely. (Which is entirely par for the course.) I wasn't looking to "blame" poor people for being poor. I was simply pointing out a few relatively simple things people can do that, in a lot of cases, will help them. No, Don, they won't work for everyone. I thought I spelled that out clearly enough, but apparently not. But they will help a lot of people, and even those they don't work for, will help keep them from getting in deeper. Speaking again for myself, they've kept me from sinking even further into debt.

But according to Don, expecting people to do anything that might help themselves is far too much until we completely revamp and reform the political, economic, and social structure of the nation to be more in line with what he considers "fair." And until that happens, those people in tough straits should just tough it out and not bother to improve their lot even in the slightest.

This is a textbook example. In Don's quest for the Perfect, he's attacking the Good. He would rather poor people have someone or something to blame than tools that might help them help themselves.

The difference between Don and George Will is simple, yet profound. Don cares about The Poor. George Will cares about poor people. One sees a class and a cause, the other sees individuals suffering. Don wants to help everyone all at once, and won't accept anything that doesn't help the whole lot. George sees a way to help some immediately.

Between the two, I'll side with George.


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Comments (30)

Very nicely put. Liberals h... (Below threshold)

Very nicely put. Liberals have become unpalatable to large number of Americans precisely because of their tendency to reserve their compassion for abstractions and collectivities, and to ignore the substantial goods and harms that individuals can do to one another, or to themselves. The tendency is made an order of magnitude worse when a liberal disparages private actions that help people because they don't assist the politics of his Cause.

The moral is: avoid Cause People. They are vexations to the spirit.

Liberals would prefer to br... (Below threshold)
reitred military:

Liberals would prefer to bring everyone (except themselves of course) down to the lowest common level rather than dragging everyone up to highest common level.

Don and liberals like him a... (Below threshold)

Don and liberals like him aren't nearly as concerned with helping the poor as they are with punishing the alleged rich. Of course that removes any incentive the poor have to work towards bettering themselves. His "Don't get born a minority member in a poor part of a corrupt nation" statement proves the he doesn't believe we are born equal, the liberal garbage he spews out is about making sure we all end up that way. He shows his true beliefs by saying in essence that minorities are unable to effect the outcome of their lives. He gives them far less credit than they deserve. If that's not a textbook case of passive racism I don't know what would be.

"If that's not a textbook c... (Below threshold)

"If that's not a textbook case of passive racism I don't know what would be."

Minor dissagreement bullwinkle....I would say it's an example of rather active racism.

"Liberals would prefer to b... (Below threshold)

"Liberals would prefer to bring everyone (except themselves of course) down to the lowest common level rather than dragging everyone up to highest common level."

This is wrong. The correct thing to say is that liberals would rather see 100% of the people poor and starving than 95% of the people rich.

You're right Faith+1, I mea... (Below threshold)

You're right Faith+1, I meant to delete passive when I deleted the first half of that sentence and missed it.

You're right Faith+1, I mea... (Below threshold)

You're right Faith+1, I meant to delete passive when I deleted the first half of that sentence and missed it.

I don't think it is really ... (Below threshold)

I don't think it is really a 'cause' for some so much as a agenda their are achieving indirectly. Some want socialism or even communism. Only programs that act purely at a group level and remove distinction for individual motivation are acceptable. Also only programs that maintain continued dependance are also only acceptable.

They use cries of proverty to generate increased government involvement and use the claim of inequity to shape it to their vision. All to essentially move us closer to their vision of the system of government they believe we should have.

A very simple way to... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

A very simple way to avoid poverty is to embrace the first half of a common Communist mantra:

"From each according to his abilities..."

If you work everyday to the best of your abilities your needs will be taken care of.

Weird, I've always seen you... (Below threshold)

Weird, I've always seen you as simply a follower of the right without any real opinion.

Jay - George Will was addre... (Below threshold)

Jay - George Will was addressing how to avoid poverty. You can be poor and not be in poverty. Although you may not be where you would like to be financially, and most of us are not, you do not seem to be living in poverty. Had you not done the things that Will suggests, you would most likely be in poverty. As for Don Myers, he is just your typical liberal socialist feeling evryone's pain who wants everything to be fair and equal. Life, however, is not fair, and when you make everyone equal you will only bring evrybody DOWN to the same level, not elevate those on the bottom to the top with everyone else. The bright shining example of this was the old Soviet Union. You had the few rulers and then all the peons. That worked out real well.

Cindy Sheehan grought her m... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Cindy Sheehan grought her montley circus to WASHINGTON D.C. and ended up in the slammer becuase it ended up as a no ring rather tan a three ring circus

Weird, I've always seen ... (Below threshold)

Weird, I've always seen you as simply a follower of the right without any real opinion.

Which may be why the rest of us see you as a Resolutely Clueless Moron.

"What I'm trying to get at ... (Below threshold)

"What I'm trying to get at here is that one of the main drawbacks, as I see them, of the idealogues, the extremists, is the "all or nothing" mentality."

This quote reminds me of a question I've had for some time now, that is, have the campaign finance laws increased this tendency?

As I understand the system, contributors are limited in the amount they can give directly to an individual candidate, but are not so limited in the amounts they can give to a political party and special interest group (a la Swift Boats and Move On).

Thus, the money is concentrated into fewer sources and funneled to politicians who, instead of being beholden, so to speak, to a variety of contributors, are now only beholden to a few big money groups (their party, big PACs). Now all the politicians are playing for the same few teams.

I ask this only because there are very few politicians with whom I agree on either side of the aisle. The Democrats don't know what they want (do they even have a platform anymore or have they just accepted their role as Republican whipping boys?) and I'm waiting for the Republican party to fracture, separating the social conservative necons from the more libertarian side (how do those two even sleep in the same bed?).

Jay- Gerry Raf... (Below threshold)


Gerry Rafferty called. He would have thanked you himself, but he's busy moving from City To City.

People who continue to live... (Below threshold)

People who continue to live in poverty do so because it is easier than working. It is so easy for white people to state that its the system that makes the minority poor unable to make anything of themselves. BS!!!!

My mom held several jobs at one time, raised 5 children (three of her own, two of her sisters), all while supporting a lazy good-for nothing husband for 10 years. She also made sure that if her children wanted to go to college, she was there to help. I was the only one that made it completely through, but it could have been done by the rest, if they had tried harder.

My mom, bless her heart, is a staunch Democrat that can't understand how she could have raised a mexican american republican engineer. I told her I prefer "american of mexican descent". Because of my mom, I have never known what it was like to live in poverty. We were poor, but you could never have convinced me of that.

I am the richest man in the world because I still have my mom with me, and I can tell her how much I respect and love her, even if sometimes I don't agree with her politically.

Randy, that says far more a... (Below threshold)

Randy, that says far more about you than it does about me.

And McGehee, you warmed the cockles of my heart with that "blast from the past." To know that the nickname I hung on him still lingers... that is true satisfaction.


It is a choice between pess... (Below threshold)

It is a choice between pessimism and optimism. George Will is an optimist. He sees hope for a better future if something is done here. Don myers is a pessimist. There is no hope for a better future. The only way there could be hope is if it is all done at once. It can't so no hope.

I'll leave it to the reader to guess where most of America stands.

The one problem I see with ... (Below threshold)

The one problem I see with this argument is the idea that the two sides are mutually exclusive. They are not. If we have to choose, which side would we choose? On this website, the majority opinion falls on one side. On another, the choice is different. Why not go for both?

Jay, you say you are poor. My guess is that your poverty is rather like mine, throughout most of my life - not particularly life-threatening; not very hard to bear.

Here's an example in China that backs up your argument. A friend of mine (let's call him C) was born in one of China's poorest villages. I've been there, so I know where it is, but I have yet to find a map that even acknowledges its existence. Ten years ago the village had no electricity. Six years ago, the nearest telephone was in a shop five miles away. No one had ever seen a mobile phone until C went back and, needless to say, it didn't work there.

There has always been a rich-poor divide between China's cities and the countryside - rather like the black-white divide in America. That divide can be crossed by some, but only those who have achieved that feat know how enormous it is.

Like all of China's poorest rural families, C's parents saw their children as their insurance for old age. So, like most people from his generation and background, C had a large family: 8 brothers and sisters - the same number as my Grandmother's family in London, born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the old, traditional China - a China that still exists in the countryside where most of the county lives - sons must take care of their parents in their old age. Daughters marry into a different village and help take care of their husbands' parents. So most of a rural family's investment goes into the sons - because that investment will stop the parents dying of starvation when they become too old to till the fields.

So, for C's family, all the boys received some kind of education, no matter how rudimentary. The girls weren't so lucky - they could only get an education if their brothers and sisters were already working and paying for it. C's eldest sister received no education at all. His second sister got three years of primary school. His third sister completed primary school - but secondary...no way.

C's youngest sister is now at university. His niece graduated last year. His parents were the first people in the village to have a telephone and a television. Why? Because when he was a child he walked the ten miles to school and studied hard. He couldn't afford to go to university, but he worked all hours God sent and paid for himself to go to an adult college. He then worked so hard for advertising companies that he was nearly hospitalized. And the members of his family that he has helped have worked hard too. The next generation of that family - the whole family - will not be poor.

This is a success story in a country that has pursued capitalism in its rawest and toughest form for the last 20 years. That statement will annoy those in America who have fallen for the lie that China is "Communist." Believe me, I know from experience that it is not - whatever its leaders might say. Forget about the name of the party in charge - they just haven't got the guts to change it.

But I could tell other stories of families that have no hope in hell of replicating C's success through hard work - unless they get help. They have worked just as hard as he has, in far more dangerous conditions - and they still have little hope of even paying their medical fees, let alone rising above their pitiful level of subsistence.

One example would be my friend J who left school after three years and was sent as a child to sell flowers on the street in Beijing to pay for her brother's school fees and her father's hospital expenses. Her father got better and her brother finished school. But her brother only managed to get a job in a furniture factory hundreds of miles from home, working seven days and 70 hours a week for about $60 a month. She's now married with a baby, but none of them will ever be able to rise out of poverty.

The situation has got so bad that the western media regularly predicts revolution in China. It's got so bad that the government is worried and the new leadership under Hu Jintao has started serious efforts to reverse the growing inequality. Whether those efforts will be enough and whether or not they will break through a thoroughly corrupt bureaucracy - that remains to be seen.

But China is starting to want state intervention to help those who cannot break out of their real poverty (not the poverty that Jay Tea and I have experienced). And it's angry about corruption. Because the poverty in China is so extreme that only a minority can ever hope to escape from it.

Poverty in the United States has increased under the extreme policies of the ideologues - just look at the figures - even though the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth. If China doesn't collapse, it will join the US, and probably even overtake it. Both countries have achieved this through hard work. But how much of a condemned underclass can be tolerated?

We make choices. But they don't have to be all or nothing. And just because extremists say it is all or nothing, we don't have to be just like them in reverse.

For once cat is right, but ... (Below threshold)

For once cat is right, but only half. We have more entitlement programs than ever and poverty has increased steadily. cat's ideas of how to fix it do nothing but perpetuate it. Throwing more money at a problem that moneys hasn't helped won't work. Liberalism never fix anything, it never will. cat uses the term "condemned underclass" but completely ignores that the condemnation doesn't exist, except in the minds of the people who listen to the crap liberals like cat spew out as fact. If it does exist it exists because of handouts, if that wasn't the case poverty wouldn't be growing, not with all that's been spent on it.

Bullwinkle, thank you. Your... (Below threshold)

Bullwinkle, thank you. Your semi-literacy and half-baked sentences say it all. Again, thank you.

You'll have to forgive the ... (Below threshold)

You'll have to forgive the typos, or not. You sure do sound like just like Don Myers though, when he gets proven to be a socialist punk he always attacks in the exact same way. I think everyone noticed you didn't have anything to refute what I said, another Don Myers trait.

But Bullwinkle, you didn't ... (Below threshold)

But Bullwinkle, you didn't say anything that remotely applied to what I had just said. If you had just slightly acknowledged that you had actually read my comments, I might understand. But instead you responded for a second time with a semi-comprehensible babble.

Every one of us makes mistakes. I did in my response to Jay Tea. I would normally never crtiticize people for the same mistakes that I myself make. But when I have such serious difficulty fighting through your tortured syntax to find out what you are actually trying to say...well, I just can't stop myself from replying.

And why should I if you can't be bothered to even try to construct a real sentence?

Don, I mentioned your "cond... (Below threshold)

Don, I mentioned your "condemned underclass", that makes you either illiterate yourself or a liar, which is it? Could it be a little of both?

Bullwinkle, I really hope t... (Below threshold)

Bullwinkle, I really hope this is my last reply. Yes, you did quote two words that I wrote. And no, I am not Don Myers.

And...the term "liberal" just leaves me confused. I have not yet been infected by virus that makes all systems believe that the "L" word is synonymous with the Devil. But I also don't count myself as one of those Devil-worshipping liberals.

Why is the word "liberal" even in this discussion. Can't we argue a point without repeating tired platitudes?

I hope it's your last reply... (Below threshold)

I hope it's your last reply too. If you don't like being referred to as a liberal you might want to look into keeping your liberal mouth closed, it's kinda hard not to notice. Have a nice day!

Diferent time zone - I go b... (Below threshold)

Diferent time zone - I go bed now.

What sentence structure has... (Below threshold)

What sentence structure has to do with anything beyond academics and certain appearances, I have no idea.

Poverty tends to accelerate the need for flash, I am thinking, so perhaps appearances are the focus for some more than is realistic to their situation. Is that it?

I agree that there is no one to keep anyone down and that line of thinking (poverty is inevitable, there's no use in trying because forces larger than my control will never 'allow' me to improve), is what poverty actually is. Poverty is a condition of the soul, a problem of the man, an inner failing that self fulfills.

You have to make a change of person to "overcome" poverty and no one can do it for you. You start by being grateful, appreciative, pleasant, encouraging to yourself and others, establish and maintain belief in yourself and your worth (not egoism, but worth) and finish what you start and do what you say you'll do and when you can't, explain why.

Believing it's someone else's acts that "keep (you) down" is part of the problem. Stop thinking that way and start accepting the fact that it's the you that keeps the you down, or up. Up to you.

-S- linked at her site to a... (Below threshold)

-S- linked at her site to and interesting but sad blog of a family in Montana that hosted a few "victims" of Katrina. It might make interesting reading for the folks on both sides of this arguement.


Cat,If what you are ... (Below threshold)

If what you are experiencing in China is what you consider Capitalism, you couldn't be more wrong. Yes, China is allowing businesses to operate, but they are not truly "owned" by the operators. The COMMUNIST state government has a system of bribery and confiscation which hangs over every business. For this reason, they are not liquid, and are distorted in their ability to operate rationally. For small business operators, there is NO opportunity. All the small businesses operate either with a licence or without, but in either case are subject to being shut down at the whim of some government operative.
This means that small businesses have little means of predicting future growth prospects, and are therefore undervalued.

All of these distortions of the business environment conspire to cause misery and hardship on a scale unseen in the USA for a hundred years.






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