But first . . .


Juan Jover: ‘The lower house of Spanish parliament yesterday approved full gay marriage. It is sad that the country of my birth, which is officially Catholic, has advanced human rights more than the country I chose to live in with my partner.’


Cheryl Crumley: ‘The Republican-controlled Texas House today passed a last minute amendment to ban gays from being foster parents. I personally know 8 same-sex couples in Dallas and between us we have 24 foster children. Most of these are children with special needs, or children of color that ‘no one else’ will take.’

☞ Some might argue these decisions are best left to social service professionals, case-by-case, based on what is best for each child. Not the Republican leadership in Texas.

And now . . .


Last Friday I ran Beth Shulman’s piece on what she called ‘the Oprah society,’ in which some make it big (or win a car), but a great many struggle to make ends meet.

It’s one thing to admire those who beat the odds [she writes]; quite another to create a society which makes the odds nearly impossible to overcome.

Tom: ‘So some person named Beth Shulman believes cradle-to-grave guarantees of security – presumably government guarantees – are what we should expect. That’s called socialism. Count me out.

‘I’m the product of a divorced parent who raised us with nothing – nothing that is, except a strong sense that our family should survive and a strong family to support her. Thanks to this strong woman – who worked two and three jobs to raise her sons and was far too proud to ever consider welfare, food stamps or government lunches, I graduated third in my high school class, went to college, graduated (up to my neck in loans each of which is paid off), started at the bottom with a big corporation, eventually started my own business and finally sold it for a tidy profit. Today, at 44, I’m semi-retired. All this with no silver spoon and no trust fund. According to Ms. Shulman, I’m no longer possible, so she seeks to make sure that’s true.

‘Please spare me the lament that America is no longer the land of opportunity. Opportunities abound in this land – far more so than anywhere else on the planet. Many of us who have succeeded constantly look for young people with the dedication, discipline and work ethic it takes to succeed. When we see those young folks, we mentor them. Too often, though, we see young people with little more than a sense of entitlement – and we know those young people will not work hard enough to succeed. If Ms. Shulman prevails, entitlement will become the norm.

‘The philosophy that we no longer live in the land of opportunity and our only salvation is government guarantees is not only simply wrong – it’s wrong headed. When and if we become that land where everyone relies on the government to see to their needs, then we will truly no longer be the land of opportunity.’

☞ This country was built by people like Tom and his mom and the strong family he says she had supporting her. A deep bow to all of them. Really.

But a few quibbles:

First, Beth Shulman did not call for cradle-to-grave security or socialism. She wrote:

We could offer quality child care to give all our kids a fair start. We could insist our jobs provide at least a week of paid sick leave. We could raise the federal minimum wage-as a start to $7.25 an hour, an option our Congress just turned down last month. We could insist every American have affordable health care. We could ensure that every qualified young man and woman can afford to attend college and graduate without mortgaging their future. And at the end of one’s work life, we could make sure that all Americans have enough to support themselves.

I think there is a difference between a week of paid sick leave and socialism.

Nor is adjusting the minimum wage for inflation socialism.

And unless by Tom’s lights every modern economy in the world is socialist except ours, then affordable health care – which all the other first-world economies offer – is not socialism either.

Subsidizing higher education – as Tom’s was subsidized – is not socialism. (If he went to a state school, his tuition payments did not cover the full cost. And if he went to Princeton, even if he got no financial aid, the accumulated beneficence of Princeton’s alumni was subsidizing the experience.)

And that leaves us with the last piece, that, ‘at the end of one’s work life, we have enough to support ourselves’ – the bare bones Social Security safety net.

Unless the U.S. has been a socialist country for the last 60-odd years, preserving Social Security doesn’t make us socialist either.

So to begin with, I don’t think Tom is stating Beth Shulman’s case fairly.

But beyond that, there are questions that must be asked of Tom.

Tom . . . were you and your Mom below average intelligence? And with crooked teeth you couldn’t afford to fix?

I ask because, as you know, for every above-average child or mom, there’s another on the other side of the bell curve below. For every IQ of 130, there’s one of 70. And not everyone was born with your winning smile.

YOU didn’t need public school, perhaps, and your Mom didn’t need the floor of a minimum wage or the aid of unemployment insurance. But not everyone has your and your mom’s genes.

When YOU had your tonsils out for $2,500 in 1967, your mom just rolled up her sleeves and worked another thousand hours to pay for it. (Thankfully, she was making more than the $2.15 minimum wage). During that period, she bought no food, paid no rent; you and your mom just toughed it out living under a bridge.

Today, you and she have provided for her future such that, even should she live to 107, she would need no help from anybody.

If the money did run out, you wouldn’t have second thoughts as, looking down from heaven, you saw her in her eleventh decade living in a large cardboard box, back under that bridge. ‘Tough luck, Mama – you should have saved more or invested better.’

But can we expect every kid to have had a mom like yours? And every mom like yours to have had, in your words, a strong family to support her?

Can every kid graduate third in his high school class if he just works hard enough? Forgive me (I graduated behind Kenny Frisof and Gary Benenson), but by my math, only three kids in the class can do that well, no matter how hard the rest work at it. And someone, not always out of sloth, will be last.

I don’t think Beth Shulman is suggesting that that last-in-class person should live as well as you. But how should he live if he needs help? In deep poverty, shame, and suffering? Or with some minimal level of dignity and comfort? How should we treat the least among us?

To me, it’s a balance. In my view, the poor didn’t have it too easy under Clinton/Gore, nor the rich, too tough. Tom and the Republican leadership differ. They have made things tougher for those worst off and significantly better for those with net worths of millions or hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

One last thought. Tom’s underlying assumption seems to be that socialism is a four-letter word. I would agree that socialism doesn’t work as well as enlightened capitalism. But neither does unenlightened capitalism.

Arthur Arfa: ‘Your argument that we had the balance about right in the Clinton-Gore years is nonsense. All of the things outlined by Ms. Shulman in her article were just as prevalent in the Clinton-Gore years. The minimum wage was still low, there was no national child care of health care provided, no pensions set aside for the poor. You give bush too much blame for the problems that exist. Bush has done nothing to alleviate these problems, but Clinton also did little.’

☞ I disagree. There are certainly limits to what one can do – not least when you have a Republican Congress for six of your eight years. But President Clinton pushed through a hike in the minimum wage over Republican opposition, pushed through the Family and Medical Leave Act over Republican opposition, pushed through the Children’s Health Insurance Program over Republican opposition, pushed through a dramatic hike in the earned income tax credit over Republican opposition, and another in college tuition aid. He tried very hard to push through affordable health insurance. And he made his parting mantra ‘save Social Security first’ rather than blow the surplus on tax cuts for the very best off. So I think their records are quite different.


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