The Blame Game

"We ask everyone to refrain from actions, words, or attitudes that stigmatize the poor, that exaggerate the benefits received by the poor, and that inflate the amount of fraud in welfare payments. These are symptoms of a punitive attitude toward the poor. The belief persists in this country that the poor are poor by choice or through laziness, that anyone can escape poverty by hard work, and that welfare programs make it easier for people to avoid work. Thus, public attitudes toward programs for the poor tend to differ sharply from attitudes about other benefits and programs." Economic Justice 194

Render true judgment, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts. Zechariah 7:8-10

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To be poor in America is to be held responsible for a tremendous host of social evils: illegitimacy, the decline of cities, the mushrooming federal budget and its deficit, declining quality of life, drug use, promiscuity, urban violence, and high insurance rates, among others. Trendy commentators describe the poor as socially pathological, criminal, sexually promiscuous, and engaged in lives of transgenerational dependency upon the public purse (Klein Callousness, C. Murray Losing Ground, Libertarian, Bauman 4-6, McGeady 7, Vogel 30, Smith Utne 66, Newman 16). This author finds it amazing that a group of people who are politically, economically, and socially powerless can be considered to be responsible for so much that is wrong in our society.

This rhetoric's willful historical ignorance and blindness to actual data and circumstances suggests that other factors are operating. Psychologists talk about projection, whereby personal responsibility for a situation is projected onto others, thus allowing people to feel better (e.g.) about their selfish greed that is demanding tax cuts, deficit spending, and abandonment of social obligations (Hunt 311-312), if they can somehow demonize the poor as undeserving of help.

In most political issues, it is wise to "follow the dollar" and discern who is benefiting from the rhetoric and actions of Congress and the welfare reformers. Using this analytical tool, blame can be squarely laid at the feet of the American power and economic elites, who are primary beneficiaries of government spending programs. These folks stand to lose the most if Congress should decide to actually balance the budget by cutting the ability of these elites to loot the public treasury. They therefore are the ones who benefit from this slander of the poor, and since the rich own the national mass media and finance the think tanks and politicians making these irresponsible comments, the elites are guilty of inflaming public opinion for their own private benefit. It is a mark of true moral degeneracy to pick on the poor and helpless for one's own personal gain. Blaming the poor for the social ills of modern America is a convenient way for these elites to divert middle class anger over the fiscal crisis away from the real architects of the mess and onto people that are already unpopular and have no political power (Haughton and Schwoyer 81, Wallis 10).

This is a fair and accurate, albeit admittedly unpleasant, description of the motivations behind this odd crusade to stigmatize and demonize the poor. And, as radical as the thought appears, I am not the only one making such observations (Haughton and Schwoyer 89, Wallis 10) The power elite are always quick to yell "Class Warfare" when the heat heads their way, but apparently when they are sending the heat, "class warfare" is no longer operating, but rather, reasoned social analysis.

The middle class economic squeeze contributes significantly to the success of the anti-poor people crusade. Americans have become inured to pronouncements of doom regarding the deficit, but while the talk continues, the national debt and its interest have mushroomed. This, together with all of the other problems afflicticting society, produces a squeeze play that is driving this rhetoric. People want something to be done, and since the power elites are averse to cutting their own welfare checks, their best solution is to blame the poor as being responsible for the budget deficit, thereby avoiding public pressure to end welfare for the rich (Davidson 12, 15).

The primary tactics of the blame game include ignoring reality in favor of myths, making wild exaggerations, a priori reasoning from unproved assumptions, hysterical commentary rooted in racism and nativism, advocacy of punitive policies (even though the data promising success are primitive or non-existent), exaggerations of problems such as dependency, fraud and abuse, demolishing straw men, promising unrealistic utopias, and generalizing from particular personal experience to universal truth (Vogel 30, Hunt 310, Heim 228, Hilfiker 20, Tonry 490). The purposes appear to be venal and power-related, in particular, the need to either get elected or defend an electoral success (Tonry 491, Price 226). The popularity of the blame game is an indictment of the moral degeneracy of the American ruling political and economic elites.

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