Charity and Government
September 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
In the last few days, the Chronicle has published three stories about a young pregnant woman with a three-month-old baby she calls “Bug”. The woman fled an abusive fiance and wound up in a local privately funded shelter, the “Star of Hope”. The Chronicle writer, Lisa Falkenberg, has followed the nightmare that ensued.
The woman and her baby slept on the floor for two nights. She is required to leave the shelter at 5:30 am and return only later in the day. The shelter is severely overcrowded, the showers are filthy, cockroaches abound, “Bug” suffers from allergies and has become sick. The mother had a chance for a job at the stadium where the Astros play baseball, but couldn’t get to an interview because she had no money and no transportation.
Without more detail, it is enough to say that the stories illustrate the plight of helpless homeless powerless people who find themselves in Houston, Texas. These are the victims of the “welfare Cadillac” images with which Saint Ronnie regaled us from his “Bully Pulpit”. Sure enough, many of our local citizens have taken time to write comments appended to these stories, lecturing the hapless woman about her bad judgment, her irresponsibility for having children she couldn’t support and her failure to get a proper education so that she could get a decent job. Needless to say, it is doubtful that the woman has had access to these lectures, since she probably is too busy trying to keep herself and her baby alive.
I don’t see these stories as evidence that Houstonians are not sufficiently generous in their support of charities. I believe they amount to shouting, screaming, bellowing alerts that four levels of government have failed to meet the minimum standards of decency and morality that every citizen should demand of his or her government.
Houston benefits from federal, state, county and municipal government funding, for which all of its citizens pay taxes (sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, fee-based taxes, license-based taxes). That money is then divvied up by several levels of political agents, empowered by us to create a country, state, county and city where decent, morally sensitive,empathetic people can live, secure in the understanding that their government is behaving in a manner consistent with those American values.
Conservative politicians claim that government has no business using taxation to re-distribute wealth so that money is available to save poor people from the kind of nightmare described in these Chronicle stories. They refer to such tax policy as “theft”.
This is a despicable and un American doctrine based on fraudulently marketed greed. There was no “welfare queen” driving around in a Cadillac, collecting welfare checks. When Ronald Reagan made cheap political capital of that lie, teams of reporters scoured the country trying to find the person he was talking about. They found nothing. It was a lie. But the dastardly message behind that lie continues to be part of our culture: That poverty and desperate need result from the fault of the victims and that “bleeding heart liberalism” is merely putting money in the pockets in the hands of thieves.
This callous un American attitude needs to be named for what it is. In America less fortunate citizens should not be dependent on the voluntary inclinations of the rich to contribute to charities. Decent health care, decent housing, and decent shelter during life’s occasional storms should be the business of all of us, acting through our government as decent Americans.
Hull House was a worthy and honorable project in 1880’s Chicago, but “Hull House liberalism” is not an honorable government policy in 2010 America.