Behind every vote for a liberal candidate there is a sense of guilt: that we well-off Americans throughout our history have left behind the poor, the “disadvantaged,” the “underprivileged.” Our road to prosperity was somehow paved at the expense of the “less fortunate.” Had they not suffered, we few lucky ones would not be where we are. We owe something to “society.” Barely concealed in this guilt-mongering on the part of politicians and penance on the part of the American people is the issue of race, the issue that never goes away. Those poor kids in the inner city must be helped because we, somehow, put them there.
The New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, the War on Poverty, and every other progressive social program, while doing nothing to relieve the blight of the cities of America, did accomplish their hidden goal: to extend a helping hand to people who didn’t need it—and to make their children unable to live without it. The New Welfare State of the twenty-first century is not exclusively, and perhaps not even predominantly, black or urban. It is white. It is rural. It has taken over the small towns. It is creeping even into suburban neighborhoods. It may be living—in one form or another—next door to you.
Here is how it works. When my wife and I moved from Colorado to the Midwest, we were in need of a babysitter. My wife quite naturally relied upon a young woman fresh out of high school who worked in the child watch at the local Y where my wife works out every morning. After coming home one night from a dinner date, my wife (while I went to bed) spent a long time talking to this young woman. She had ambitions of opening up her own child care service of some kind and was looking into certification programs in that field. My wife applauded the girl’s (for that is what she is) plans and gave her one direct piece of advice: the secret to a happy life is not getting pregnant until you have a husband.
A few months later at the Y, the girl broke the news to my wife: “I’m pregnant.” There was no reference to or hint of the previous conversation about career goals. My wife asked whether the girl would be getting married soon. “No,” came the answer, without a blush. She was not sure whether she and her boyfriend would stay together.
“Well, how are you going to support the baby? You know, medical costs are high these days, and even with my husband’s insurance we still have a lot of expenses.”
“Oh, it’s no big deal. I’ll probably go on WIC.”
So that’s it. No shame. No sense of remorse. What is more important, no sense of real responsibility. By the time the baby came, the girl had indeed broken up with her boyfriend, who had found another girl. And the new mother was working on getting a new boyfriend—a fling which didn’t last.
Now the guilt-mongering progressive politician wants us to think about the baby and how unfortunate it is to be born without a father and in relatively poor circumstances, though the mother has a job. What the progressive politician does not want us to think about is the free will that brought a child into the world in a way that guaranteed that child would grow up in relative poverty—and therefore be in need of “assistance.”
But consider my wife’s relatively fortunate circumstances. She grew up in exactly that girl’s shoes. She came from a small town in the Midwest. Her folks were not rich. But: She studied hard. She got a scholarship to college. She got married. She worked and saved money. She waited to have children until her husband could afford to support her staying at home. She followed the steps of what used to be the not-so-hidden secret of a happy life. And now who will pay for the medical care of this woman’s child—and the formula, which is more expensive than what Nature provides? Who pays for the pre-K “learning center” in our town that this child will likely attend—that we are told is “so good” for kids—serving only “underprivileged” children while their mothers work full-time? The list of transfer payments could go on.
Every instance of “relief” this child receives will in a very real way compete with the things we can give our children. As so-called “middle-class” parents, we economize and make choices every day about the things we give to our children. There is no aid for our oldest son who is being home-schooled, though the tax base in our town suggests that we are paying far more than our “fair share” for the public schools that fail to teach children to read (and teenagers to be abstinent!). It is not only a question of justice. We feel for the child who will be brought up in modest circumstances, but more importantly, without a father. A little restraint on the part of these post-adolescents playing at being grow-ups would have meant opportunity and a true family for the child.
The purpose of the Old Welfare State was ostensibly helping the poor. The New Welfare State is in the business of making more poor to help. The Old Welfare State exhausted the cities long ago. The New Welfare State has moved out to the country. Go to any Wal-Mart in the small-town Midwest, and you will see the grandchildren of farmers buying meat and potatoes (but mostly in the form of potato chips) with food stamps. Men in their twenties sit idly in the public parks at two in the afternoon. (Hint: the men are not on vacation, and their preferred beverage is not the latest protein drink.) Girls regularly get pregnant in or just out of high school—rarely with the intent to marry. The word “qualify”—which used to signal moving up in the world—has taken on a whole new meaning. There is a race to the bottom to qualify for this or that state or federal handout. Yet all this is counted a victory for some. New mouths to feed grow the Nanny State. New mouths to feed translate to more votes for the Democrats. And hardly a Republican dares to question the change.
The New Welfare State makes plain the hidden reality of the Old Welfare State. So-called welfare is a matter of choice, not of necessity. It begins with the surrender of the old-fashioned idea of personal responsibility. And the face of the New Welfare State is the pregnant girl—or her heedless baby-daddy moving on to impregnate the next teenage girl—who looks just like you did a few years ago, albeit expecting, demanding a relief check that you are providing, unwilling to take your advice about responsible living, and with no inclination to offer so much as a thank-you.