Today I pull another feather out of the featherbed as I look at what it means when Conservatives talk about “Those People.” Whenever I get into a conversation with Conservatives about programs that help the indigent, I get responses that begin with the phrase “Those People.” Whatever the situation, they seem to have some idea of what “those people” are and are adept at reducing anyone in need to this straw man. Who are “those people?” What does it mean to be one of “those people?”
I start with the homeless “those people.” To a conservative, a homeless person is a man over 30 who is a drunk derelict drug addict who would prefer to be homeless. When you give aid to “those people,” they simply go spend whatever they get on drugs or alcohol. They prefer to live on the streets. They are too lazy to hold down a job. We simply encourage their nasty habits when we give them assistance. We encourage others to become like them (say what?). Taxpayers work hard for their money and it shouldn’t go to people who are too lazy to contribute. It doesn’t help that the Salvation Army ad in the paper asking for help for the homeless over the holidays shows a picture of a derelict old man with no teeth. That is the face of the homeless to many of our fellow citizens. When you talk to them about homeless children, there are harsh words for their parents, but no concern for the children. When you talk about mothers who have lost their homes, there are harsh words about the mothers. “Those people” are living the lives they deserve. This is a lie. There are millions of people who have been hard working producers and taxpayers their whole lives who are one bad break away from joining the ranks of the homeless. And to me, it is never a child’s fault that he is homeless. There are the homeless veterans, their spirits broken because they served their country. There are the mentally ill homeless, forced into the streets because we have chosen to drastically cut services to help them. The ranks of potential homeless include you and me and our parents and our children and our brothers and our sisters.
The next set of “those people” are those who are still in their homes but unemployed. This set of “those people” are too lazy to go out and find a job. They are getting rich panhandling and living off the taxpayer dole. Conservatives seem to have this set of faceless examples of cases they heard about who simply prefer to panhandle and take entitlements to the discipline of working every day. They tell me about somebody who knew somebody who had a cousin who met somebody who was living in posh conditions off the money they get from us and panhandling. I ask them how somebody is getting rich off of what we provide in transfer payments. I am told that these people work the system and are able to live high on the hog. (Of course, there is a category of people I call the Professional Poor who do work the system, and know how to work others to get by without working, a loophole we should close.) I ask them if they know how much a person or family can get in assistance and if they have tried to live on that amount. Of course, they say no, but they know it happens. In fact, I have tried living on the amount people get in food stamps (an experiment because I wanted to know for sure), and it is no easy road. Even when you add up food stamps, unemployment and all other assistance it is really hard. When I point out that when a mother gets a job she loses much of the help and has to pay for child care, they are unconcerned. She should be working and she shouldn’t have those children. Conservatives tell me that “those women” just have lots of babies so they can get more welfare money. They would rather lie around all day having sex than work. Note that these are the same people who would deny a woman an abortion because she can’t afford another baby. “Those people” should get a job and if they can’t find one they should create one. Again, the ranks of the potential unemployed include you and me and our parents and our brothers and sisters and children.
An offshoot of “those people” is the elderly in poverty. “Those people” enjoyed the high life all their working days and are now indigent because they failed to plan. They suck up our social security and medicare money and are living off of us who are now working because they were so set on meeting immediate wants that they failed to save for their retirement. Never mind that the crash of 2008 wiped out a lot of people’s savings. Never mind that many companies have reneged on their pensions. Never mind that many never made enough to live on, send their children to college and still put away for today. Never mind that some never qualified for social security. Never mind that the cost of living skyrocketed faster than they could save. It is their fault and “those people” are living as they deserve. The ranks of potential poverty-stricken elderly could include almost anybody’s parents, and they are often one corporate decision to default on pension checks from being totally wiped out.
“Those people” include illegal immigrants who worked hard for many years and never had a safety net. “Those people” never bothered to get an education. “Those people” this and “Those people” that. The words “those people” separate the human faces of misery from the person doing the talking. But it has been my experience in working with “those people” that they are you and me with one extra piece of bad timing or bad luck happening to them. (When conservatives fall into the ranks of “those people,” somehow they are different and “those people” are taking money away from helping them.)
So the feather I am pulling out of the featherbed of lies is that there is a group of “those people” who live high off of the hard work of taxpayers. Conservatives sleep well denying them assistance because “those people” are not you and me. They are a different people, almost a foreign people, perhaps even less than human. That is a lie. In fact, “those people” are you and me in very hard circumstances. If you would wish for help yourself or would wish for it for your children, you should be happy to provide it to “those people.” After all, one of these days that “those people” label could refer to you or your children.