San Diego conservatives cringed when they saw Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity questioning local rocker Jason Greenslate for “gaming the food stamp system.” The idea that an able-bodied man, who drives a Cadillac Escalade and buys lobster and is subsidized by taxpayers, repulses both people of good will on the Left and on the Right.
Attacking Greenslate is a bad idea.
I understand “conservatives” like O’Reilly and Hannity because I grew up in that culture. The east-coast dwelling, second and third generation (respectively) Irish-Americans grew up in middle-class Long Island. Their parents sent them to parochial schools, they studied, worked hard, and have a special pride on being “self-made men.” Both of their accomplishments are to be lauded but the culture which encouraged their hard work no longer exists.
Irish-American immigrants (among other immigrants) built their own “social safety nets” through the Catholic Church and other voluntary organizations. We prided ourselves on our great contributions: our mercy hospitals, our school systems, our immigrant relief societies, and our communitarian efforts to provide opportunities for each other in a free society. That communitarian culture of self-reliance encouraged the recipients of charity to make an effort at a better life for themselves and ultimately “pay back” the communitarian culture through volunteerism and donations in the pews.
President Johnson’s “Great Society” co-opted our communitarian culture and introduced political decision making, rather than the pragmatic communitarian solutions, into the social safety net. Attacking Greenslate then is an affirmation of the “chintzy Marxism” so many “conservatives” defend.
Is it appalling that Greenslate is taking public subsidies while he cruises around Pacific Beach, chases girls on the beach, plays rock and roll in nightclubs, and waits for a (hopeful) record deal? Perhaps, but in the pre-Great Society communitarian world, those funding his lifestyle would call up the local priest, or non-profit chairperson, and instruct them to “cut off this hippie until he gets a job.” They could do that because, to coin a phrase, “they built that.”
State-sponsored charity is the problem, not Greenslate. Greenslate worked for eight years, took time off to pursue a dream, found out he qualified for public assistance, and took it. His actions are no different than the long-term unemployed person, retraining to pursue a career change on extended unemployment benefits. Attacking Greenslate then appears to be a cheap shot filled with envy rather than a critical analysis of state-sponsored charity.
Voluntary charity can dictate terms for the recipients because it’s funded through private efforts; if the recipient doesn’t like the terms, he or she can seek assistance elsewhere. State-sponsored charity crafts its terms on vote-buying for the status quo. “Gaming the system” will be rampant and divisions in society are inevitable; it’s designed to do that.
Attack the programs, not the recipients of the programs, because forced charitable programs are inherently immoral. Stated differently, in language O’Reilly, Hannity and I might understand, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Stated in language Greenslate might use, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”