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Hard Working Conservatives vs. Bleeding Heart Liberals

I received another of those e-mail forwards that prompted me to write a response to the person who forwarded it to me. This was a long one, so I'm not going to include it here or my full response (after a little googling, here's the original blog entry the e-mail was copied from). It's pretty typical of what you hear coming from the right these days - a handful of things I agree with, a few things that are objectively wrong, a few things I subjectively disagree with, and a lot of complaining.

Anyway, one of the major themes of themes of the e-mail was something I hear a lot from my more conservative friends, about how they've worked hard, and don't want to have their tax dollars going to support lazy people who don't work as hard as them. To simplify their viewpoint just a bit, they see America as the land of opportunity, so the only reason most unsuccessful people are unsuccessful is because they don't work hard enough, and they consider those who want to help the unsuccessful to be bleeding heart liberals. So, I've adapted the portion of my response to the e-mail that addressed that sentiment and put it in this blog entry.

There's no doubt that many successful people have worked hard to get where they are, but I think a little perspective is needed.

I'll use myself as an example. I feel I've done pretty well so far. I studied hard in school, kept my act together, stayed out of trouble, and I feel I have a pretty good work ethic. But, I recognize how extremely fortunate I was to be born into the family I was. I had two parents in a stable relationship, who were both very supportive and who had/have an active interest in what I did, and who weren't so busy working multiple jobs that they were unable to be involved in my life. They made enough money to keep a stable lifestyle - never having to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or whether or not we'd get evicted because we couldn't make the rent. Even college was assumed - I knew my parents would pay for whatever I couldn't get covered by scholarships.

Now, compare that to someone I know (but who would rather I didn't use her name on this blog). Her dad died when she was 4. She left to a new country, and started elementary school without knowing a lick of English. Her mom did remarry, but the man was, to put it frankly, an asshole. But, because of her mom's religious convictions, she didn't divorce the man until much later than she should have. My acquaintance dropped out of school before starting high school so that she could work full time to help support her younger brothers and sisters, but she still managed to study on her own and get her GED the same year she would have graduated from high school. When the opportunity arose, she put herself through college and got her degree. But, being a bit naive because she didn't have any high school guidance counselors to give her advice, she didn't realize the opportunities she had for financial aid, and so ended up paying for a good portion of her education through credit cards and out of pocket.

So yes, I know I've worked to get where I am, but comparing it to someone like my acquaintance, it's obvious just how many more obstacles she had to overcome, and how much harder she had to work to get to where she is today. It's no surprise that all of my parents' children got college degrees, while my acquaintance was the only one in her family that managed to do it.

Now, whether or not you think kids that were born into less fortunate circumstances deserve a helping hand from the government and our tax dollars is still a subjective question, but I'm not going to be so smug as to say that if those kids just worked as hard as I did, that they'd end up as successful as I have.

On a related note, I wanted to discuss generally the concept of helping others in society. Even if you ignore compassion, there can be pragmatic reasons for doing so. For example, where the e-mail discussed drug addicts, look at it this way. Assume that there's a person addicted to a dangerous drug like heroin. You can ignore the problem, but because of his desparation to get money to support his addiction, he'll probably end up turning into a criminal, and may end up robbing your house or injuring you or your family. You could lock him up in prison, but then we're stuck supporting him with taxpayer money, and he's nothing more than a burden on society. And once he's back out, he's liable to go right back to his drug habit and criminal behavior. Or, you could get him treatment, after which he can go back to being a productive member of society. A little up front cost could end up being a better investment.

For a non-hypothetical case, consider homeless alcoholics. Seattle recently started a pilot program where 75 homeless alcoholics received free housing, no strings attached, not even requiring the residents to quit drinking. In the first year, Seattle saved over $2 million due to reduced jail/medical costs. So, even if someone doesn't think those people deserve help, or considers it a free ride, the end result is that it still helps save taxpayer money.
http://www.jointogether.org/news/headlines/inthenews/2008/seattle-saves-money-by-housing.html

I'm not saying that there aren't problems in government programs that need to be fixed (I still like Eric Jones's idea of compulsory birth control drugs while on welfare - if you can't even support yourself, why create another life you can't support), but it doesn't do any good to pretend that we have complete control over our own destinies, and that people are in dire straits simply because they're lazier than us. As the old saying goes, don't judge a person till you've walked a mile in their shoes.

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