Painting With Too Broad A Brush

by James Kirchick | August 13, 2009

Ed Kilgore is mischaracterizing what I wrote yesterday when I criticized his postulation that it is racism and hatred of poor people motivating (some) critics of the president's health care plan--just like it's unspoken bigotry that leads certain Republicans to take positions against same-sex marriage. Kilgore writes that I believe there to be "no moral equivalence between homophobia and hostility to poor and minority people." But nothing I wrote would suggest such a privileging of repulsion for one type of bigotry over that of another. I believe that all prejudices held against people for their inherent traits are equally despicable. What I took issue with was Kilgore's comparison of latent, unmistakable anti-gay animus (a belief that gay people are immoral, disgusting perverts) and a no-less insidious racism which he suspects--suspects--lurks "right beneath the surface" of those loudmouths disrupting town hall health care meetings. I will be the first to admit that those people are  nutters. But until I see solid evidence that they are racists or hate poor people, I think it is inaccurate to tar them with such conversation-ending epithets. For instance, in his original piece, Kilgore associated John Stossel with such sentiments, merely because the ABC News commentator called the president's health care package "a form of expensive, taxpayer-funded welfare." Stossel may be a libertarian absolutist, but a racist he is not, and I know plenty of other non-racist libertarians who would say the exact same thing about the Democratic plan.

Which leads me to my second point, concerning Kilgore's conflation of "hostility to poor and minority people." Being poor is not an inherent trait like being black or gay. It is a economic state into which some people are born, but from which they can arise. It is also a condition into which some people fall due to making bad decisions. Liberals are more inclined to believe that government should help people who make bad or irresponsible decisions while conservatives are less amenable to such policies. Conservatives put more faith in markets, philanthropy and individual initiative. That view is not inherently "hostile" to the poor.

To put this distinction into perspective, let's take an example of a very prominent and popular Democratic politician who passed a law that dramatically reduced the amount of government aid to the poor: Bill Clinton. His greatest second-term legislative achievement was signing Welfare Reform, which eradicated the never-ending spigot that was the federal welfare system by putting a limit on the number of years that one could receive government assistance. Were Bill Clinton and the many Democrats who supported that bill guilty of "hostility" towards the poor? Many on the left thought so, and condemned Clinton and the Democrats who sided with him as plutocratic, corporate-owned toadies who hated poor people and were sacrificing them to win moderate votes. But I'd be surprised if Kilgore shared this sentiment, seeing that he works for a think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, which is known for trumpeting its support for welfare reform. So, can we be a little more generous to those on the other side of the aisle?

--James Kirchick

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/painting-too-broad-brush