In his latest American Spectator column, conservative pundit Ben Stein argues that Americans living at or below the poverty line aren’t actually poor at all because “they almost always have indoor plumbing,” and in any case they just “envy” the wealthy and are victims of their own “self-sabotage.”
On top of this initial commentary, He claims that federal policies are not capable of addressing poverty and that instead what America really needs is an end to the separation of church and state.
Says Ben Stein:
“So, I just don’t see the problem in there being so many billionaires except for bare envy — an extremely basic emotion. It is an emotion that the politicians and academics and race haters have been able to stir up for a long, long time. It leads to jobs for Democrats but not much else.”
“In olden times, poverty was the common human condition. In the USA, as recently as the Great Depression, poverty was commonplace. FDR might have exaggerated when he described one-third of the nation as “ill housed, ill fed and ill clad…” But surely he was not far off.”
“Now, real poverty, where Americans lack cars or air conditioning (imagine that we now consider it poverty to lack something that was the ne plus ultra of luxury in my youth!) or solid food is extremely rare. Yes, the government designates many tens of millions as poor, but they almost always have indoor plumbing and they are super nourished as opposed to mal-nourished. They get food stamps. They get free medical care. They get vouchers for many of the needs of life.”
“This is not to deny their sorrow and I am sad for them. But why are they poor? Senator Elizabeth Warren, a genuine moron, not a fake one, says it’s because of “corporations.”
“No, federal policy does not generally cause long-term unemployment and poverty. In general. Obviously, there are exceptions.
My humble observation is that most long-term poverty is caused by self-sabotage by individuals. Drug use. Drunkenness. Having children without a family structure. Gambling. Poor work habits. Disastrously unfortunate appearance. Above all, and counted in the preceding list, psychological problems (very much including basic laziness) cause people to be unemployed, have poor or no work habits, and enter and stay in poverty.”
“What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles”.
Mr. Stein, your flaws in logic are numerous but I will give you credit sticking to your guns and speaking in a manner so plain as to make any Republican PR strategist blush because there is no doubt in my mind that many other conservatives feel this way in private and only sometimes let the belief bubble up and go public (see Michelle Bachmann).
Beyond the assertion that those living in poverty were once mal-nourished and now living up to a high level of personal nutrition is not just wrong, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to promote the idea that America’s poor are eating well because there are many, many, reasons that this is at best a misunderstanding on his part and at worst a deluded lie.
Poverty in America is not marked by the ‘Whole Foods Moms’ in yoga pants holding the kale-pomegranate smoothies. It’s not the vegan bakeries in Oregon nor the organic farms of California. No, nutrition of the poor in this country is categorized by the numerous and quickly growing “food desserts”. It’s the Mcdonald’s and Taco Bells, it’s the fried cheese, extra-meat, super-sized-for-a-dollar ‘food’ items being pedaled by large corporations that sustain themselves by selling massive quantities of poor quality, nutrient-stripped processed foods at very low prices to a hungry population of impoverished people who, by eating these things and becoming more obese, continue this vicious cycle and pass down the bad habits to their children.
Secondly Mr. Stein, you are Jewish and (presumably) so is the majority of your family. After even the most cursory glances at a world history textbook, do you really want to support a government in which the separation of church and state is not absolute?
Because surely, in this country at least, they will not be talking of separation of Synagogue and state, nor separation of Temple and State, nor Mosque, nor anything at all except for Christian-Government control. So where does that leave you? And your Hindu neighbors? And the non-believers? And the Muslims? Anyone at all?
Surely, you see that government must rely on facts in order to conduct fact-based work and make progress. Surely you know what happened in Iran when it lost it’s secularism? Did poverty disappear there? How about Pakistan? Surely religion-based government is conquering poverty there as well.