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Friday, November 09, 2012

Making and Taking

David Brooks is not my favorite New York Times columnist, though he’s certainly not the worst (I’m looking at you, Gail).  And sometimes he says things that are both right and really important.  He said something like that today, when he advised Republicans to start thinking about ethnic groups (in my own experience, Latinos) in ways that transcend this foolish and disgusting makers-takers/"they want stuff" theme that is oozing into the post-election discussion.

What he points out is that many ethnic groups (again, I’m thinking personally about Latinos) have immense respect for hard work, but also immense appreciation for the good government can do.  Without spilling too much of my unabridged biography here I’ll just say that I have a lot of personal experience with people working exceptionally hard.  And valuing it.  My father used to tell me that his father, a barber, would say “If I don’t cut hair, we don’t eat.”  My father got that lesson.  My other grandfather started as a dishwasher in a hotel restaurant and eventually bought a Mexican restaurant: he used his wife and his daughter (my mother) as waitresses and cashiers, and he did all the cooking and purchasing himself.  The only outside person who did any work there was a bookkeeper he used at tax time. 

But a lot of whatever success we achieved as a family could not have happened without government programs.  I’ll start with the biggest program of them all: the military, which, while nearly killing my father more than once, nevertheless ended up providing us housing, discounted groceries, education (from first grade to, in the case of my father, vocational education), and yes, the biggest evil of all, government-run health care (which was excellent, by the way).  We also benefitted from food stamps, Pell Grants and guaranteed student loans, state universities, Medicare, and Medicaid.  I’m sure I’m leaving something out.

Anyway, enough detail.  As a matter of setting the record straight I’m glad David Brooks explained all this to the blowhards and self-righteous titans of white American industriousness who think that a vote for Obama was a vote for government cheese and a chance to sit around and keep sucking on the government teat.  Although personally I don’t really care if they get the message: if they keep talking like they talked this time around (and are still talking) at least I won’t have to spend two months every four years refreshing 538.com rather than, well, working.  Because I won’t have to worry about how the election will turn out.

Posted by Bill Araiza on November 9, 2012 at 11:02 AM in Culture, Current Affairs | Permalink


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Joseph Slater suggests* a reason why many don't like Brooks and putting aside her overused Romney dog bit [bad Collins!], putting Collins as the "worst" would not be my ranking. NYT needs better "conservative" columnists in general. The one who mused about the Reese Witherspoon look-a-like is another who leaves a lot to be desired.

* see also, the 2004 talk about "values voters," that is those with conservative values.

Posted by: JOe | Nov 10, 2012 4:17:21 PM

"It's disgusting to posit that Obama appealed to minority groups by promising them stuff.

In truth, these groups just want what my family got, which was . . . a bunch of free stuff."

Posted by: Whatever | Nov 10, 2012 11:13:46 AM

The problem with Brooks's column, and others I've seen like it, is it poses a false dichotomy. "On the one hand, like us Republicans, Latinos value hard work and family, but on the other hand, like Democrats, they value government programs." Well, Democrats value hard work and family too -- and quite a few Dems value religion, and yes, even entrepreneurship (two things also bandied about in these sorts of musings). This sort of thing also assumes Repubs generally oppose government programs, but that doesn't reflect reality either -- although the ones Republicans like sometimes are quite different than the ones Democrats like.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Nov 9, 2012 5:57:19 PM

Who is the beneficiary of the benefits of the federal government?



Stop the "they want stuff" argument. It is demonstrably false.

Posted by: anon | Nov 9, 2012 3:08:38 PM


Your post, and the comments it provoked, reminded me of Suzanne Mettler's The Submerged State (which you can read about here http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/S/bo12244559.html)
Why are so many Americans unaware of government social benefits and so hostile to them in principle, even though they receive them?
Your candor is refreshing.

Posted by: Ann Marie Marciarille | Nov 9, 2012 1:18:27 PM

Both your perception and logic are highly deficient.

First of all, national defense is a Constitutional requirement of the Feds; education, medical care and welfare for flood- and brain-damaged New Yorkers and Christie are not.

Secondly, your argument would make a blue-eyed Amerikan extol the feds for offering a refundable tax-credit for Frank Sinatra.

Your argument would make it just fine to attain full employment by CCC projects like digging holes (for dams?) and filling them up again.

Your argument would support making wealthy farmers richer by taxing our poor for farm-price support and for putting African farmers out of work by sending all that excess food as food-aid to Africa. Better we send Africans the dirt from all those holes you're digging: we wouldn't waste time filling them up again and the African farmers would still have jobs.

Your argument would support forcing insurance on folks that returned 20 cents on the premium dollar instead of the 80 cents (or much less) that Obamacare represents.

It must be your ignorance of the facts involved that leads you to the conclusion that a federal gummint that can't deliver monopoly mail for a profit, can't teach kids math at all or make them literate like those of Ruanda, charges folks $1 for $0.65 for NFIP flood insurance, can't preserve buffalo as well as Ted Turner, and can't build national parks and forests that Amerikans of color actually visit, can possibly manage an economy.

Posted by: Jimbino | Nov 9, 2012 12:55:57 PM

Thanks so much for the kind words, Mike.

Paul: Are you kidding? Absolutely. I still remember Dowd's column during the anthrax scare describing herself typing the column out wearing elbow-length evening gloves for protection. Priceless, among many others!

Posted by: Bill Araiza | Nov 9, 2012 12:42:43 PM

Bill, Your post says it so well, thanks. I think a campaign should be started along the lines of a blog I think should be started, "EndFactFreePolitics." The blowhardiness of what passes for political diaglog these days lets all the important and pressing issues this country faces slide under the radar. Keep up the good work. You are inspiring me.

Posted by: Mike Zimmer | Nov 9, 2012 12:10:07 PM

Really? You prefer Dowd to Collins?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 9, 2012 11:13:07 AM

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