Life is much about trying to figure out how it makes sense- trying to find a story that tells us what’s going on and why. Politics is a competition of stories. Advocacy is the fight to give one story primacy over another.
In the last months I have become as emotionally invested in the battle to expand healthcare in Tennessee as I have anything in a long time. The personal stake has been great but in larger context it has been a battle of stories.
There is a frame of reference, a story, that says that being poor is a willful condition of a large group of people who are lazy and gleefully dependent upon whatever they can get from the government. Their appetites, the story goes are insatiable. They chronically cheat and without management will literally steal us all blind. Some states are now at the point where they not only manage how much food they eat but what kind. It is viewed as a legitimate consequence for the kind of people they have chosen to be.
The lack of health-care is also viewed as a consequence of willful choices. If they only worked harder, tried harder, if only they paid their way they would not be asking, no demanding, for what others work hard for.
Bigotry to have wide commerce must be cloaked in common sense. And the story about poor people is to too many the ultimate common sense. It explains clearly that they bring bad things on themselves. It explains why helping them is bad for them (it makes them more dependent and thus less likely to try harder to make life better) and why the poor are a threat to regular working people. (Personally I think the threat of poor people just gives the rich cushion from too many difficult questions but that may just be me.)
There is increasingly a polite bigotry. It says the problem is not with the poor (after all we are not bad people) but in the misguided and dangerous ways some would have us help them. They counsel patience and waiting. Sometimes though the nastiness seeps out but most are more polished than Senator Gardenhire. But bigotry in the end does not depend on the clothes it wears.
Poverty should not be a crime or seen as God’s judgement on our character and there
is a political vision that sees it that way. For too long in Tennessee it has been a too common vision.