To the editor:
On Oct. 31, Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate for economics, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times that laid bare one of the dirty little secrets of our society of late. He quoted Gov. John Kasic of Ohio who defended his acceptance of a federally funded expansion of Medicaid by saying, "I'm concerned about the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you're poor, somehow you're shiftless and lazy."
With all of the talk about the importance of the Tea Party in the recent electoral cycle, it seems that many political pundits are using misdirection as a tactic in the debates over our economy. The popular notion (and self-understanding of many members of the movement) is that the Tea Party is about deficits and debt. A survey of many of the position statements reveals that this simplistic understanding is, as Krugman puts it, "delusional." Instead, most of the speechification is a "tirade against the possibility that the government might help 'losers' avoid foreclosure." Pundits don't talk much about fiscal responsibility but increasingly about how the government is "rewarding the lazy and undeserving."
These allegations become more credible when one examines the philosophical underpinning of the recent debates. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, puts it this way: The social safety net is becoming a "hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency." Rep. Ryan is a self-professed disciple of Ayn Rand, the literary proponent of libertarianism and total laissez-faire economics.
I am of the belief that such an understanding of our economy is at its root anti-Christian. It violates the fundamental promise that Episcopalians (and others) take in their baptismal covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and "to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being." It creates an idol of free markets, since if "the markets are always right then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor" (Daniel Little). Thus we have an increasingly common the attitude that unemployed workers have it too easy, that they're so coddled by unemployment insurance and food stamps that they have no incentive to go out and get a job. This belies the fact that in places like Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, the food pantry ministry of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Lewistown, we are serving increasing numbers of the working poor, people who have jobs, who work hard but simply don't make enough money to make ends meet. We all have anecdotal evidence of individuals on such assistance that seem to squander what they are given, but the facts repudiate the tendency to make broad generalizations out of these stories. Statistics indicate that the lion's share of people receiving food assistance do so for less than a year, but during that time, it is this assistance that makes the difference and helps them prevent the downward spiral into the cycles of poverty. "The Cupboard" and other efforts like it are often the last stop before the abyss, which is unresolving poverty. They are perhaps the last defense against the "war on the poor" which has become so evident, and I for one am proud that there are people across our community that support its efforts.
Rev. Dr. David A. Zwifka