Monday, January 12, 2015

John Grasso's Id Is Our Problem

There was news out of Anne Arundel County last week when a county council member made his true feelings known about affordable housing.  Rema Rahman with the Capital Gazette wrote that Councilmember John Grasso called those seeking government assistance "freeloaders" and then proceeded to list every stereotype about America's poor in one sitting, an admirable feat all its own.  However, he did not stop there.  He also applauded his own fastidious savings and measured spending that made him the man he is today - firmly within the middle class with a shiny name-tag to protect the privileges thus afforded to him.

Listen - I don't have too much more to say about Mr. Grasso.  He is clearly proud of himself in contrast to those he reprimanded in a public hearing.  As his fellow council-member noted, there will be no electoral consequences for these statements and, alas, he may even be further lionized as someone who promoted "a return to common-sense".  And I won't even offer comment on the nonsensical statement that people "use children as a crutch to describe laziness."  (Um, what?)

Rather, I would like to talk about the mindset that leads to these statements, which I would presume is much more prevalent than even the most cynical among us would suggest.  I have no scientific proof to further this argument, but I see this as an evolutionary "lizard-brain" trait that we need to "get over".  "You drain resources from clan.  We run fast to trap game and avoid predators.  You bad for running fast.  You go."  Humans have a general distaste for weakness and failure, particularly Americans.

"I don't like hospitals."  "We'll visit grandma at the nursing home next weekend."  "Insurance?  I'll be fine."

This is an easily identifiable aspect of how we relate to the world around us, further bolstered by a semi-religious-often-secular belief that if we do well, we've earned it, and failure/sickness is the result of bad acts.

And I want to acknowledge something up front - there is waste and abuse in government assistance.  It is rampant.  I would even suggest that up to 20% of recipients do not meet the purpose or intent of government assistance as we all understand those intents and purposes to be.  But that leaves 80%.  Read the statistics - most of these individuals require assistance because of sickness, chronic pain, or disability (often overlapping descriptors, but each with its own disqualifications).  If I were to bring this to the attention of Mr. Grasso, he would likely say that he wasn't talking about those people (or that "chronic pain is a crutch to describe laziness" - I don't know him well enough to say either way). Nevertheless, it is apparent that Mr. Grasso was much more interested in addressing a stereotype than refining policy.

But Mr. Grasso is not the problem.  He is a symptom.  There is no political consequence for trashing the poor.  If he had questioned the propriety of the mortgage tax deduction or favorable taxation on capital gains, we may see a recall petition circulated in Glen Burnie.  Mr. Grasso would have been much worse off telling the Gazette that they don't have permission to use his name.  Then he would have been ridiculed on the national stage and forced to write an awkward group apology.  But shaming people from the dais at a public hearing?  Not only political acceptable, but possibly even beneficial to your Republican bona fides.

Oftentimes I am concerned that there is too much outrage in the world to no good purpose, most of the time premised on something as insignificant as whether someone else shares our world-view.  But when elected officials denigrate citizens (and constituents) for their inability to succeed in an unfair world of brutal consequences, that makes me outraged.  And sometimes I think outrage is the only antidote we have for apathy.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Be careful out there.