Mocking the spiritual component of anti-poverty efforts can be as glib as, say, asserting that social welfare programs encourage laziness. Still, the “eye to eye” method is not always the best way to help the less unfortunate. Giving your time to help individuals in your own community (whether or not it has significant poverty) is more emotionally satisfying than paying taxes or writing a check, but there has to be a way to meet the basic human needs of those who are out of sight. That will be the challenge of a Ryan anti-poverty plan.
I also write about a proposal in New York to divert a small share of donations to highly visible recreation areas (Central Park) so that they benefit parks in less affluent parts of the city:
This diversion (“hijacking”?) of funds challenges the idea that charitable people should pick the beneficiaries of their largesse. But it does get at the “out of sight” problem that leads to the neglect of facilities in poorer neighborhoods away from a city’s tourist areas. The contributions to the park funds are still voluntary, so it’s an alternative to a general tax that would hit all citizens, including those least able to afford it.
At America magazine, I muse about this autumn of "brinkmanship" and the "nuclear option" and the likening of Obamacare to the Bay of Pigs. I prefer a less militaristic metaphor for what's happening in Washington:
Maybe I’m just not a war movie fan, but the past few months in Washington have reminded me more of a Three Stooges short, or one of the many that climaxed with a pie fight. As I recall, the fights generally took place at pretentious, Senate-like dinner parties, and began the Stooges throwing food at each other. As the fight escalated to include servants and some of the more raffish guests, the hostess would try to maintain decorum. But there would come a point where a matronly woman in pearls would be the accidental victim of a banana cream projectile. And that would be a tipping point: It is a comedy rule that any dowager hit in the face with a pie will return the favor with surprising force and accuracy, and there will be no one left to plead for an end to the food fight.
I don’t think we’re reached a nuclear winter in Washington, but several dowagers have already been hit squarely in the face.
I review the holiday episode for the A.V. Club. Excerpt:
The Michael J. Fox Show can’t really afford to coast right now, but taking an easy slide down a hill are what Thanksgiving episodes are for. Occasionally there’s a “Turkeys Away,” the episode that may have saved WKRP In Cincinnati from getting cancelled in its first year, but most shows use the holiday to get away with some very old comic setups. The most cherished tradition is to invite a couple of older actors to guest as never-seen-before relatives, and “Thanksgiving” has Charles Grodin and Candice Bergen as Mike’s parents, Steve and Beth.
Bergen is a likeable actress, always a good sport, but her delivery is distractingly similar no matter whom she’s playing. The world seems to freeze for each of her very carefully enunciated lines, and her performance as Mike’s nosy, hypercritical mother is essentially Murphy Brown in a Betty White hairdo. Her snarking at Marie’s housekeeping and cooking skills is a nonstarter of a plot.
At America magazine, I urge people to resist the "game change" view of American politics:
[...] most adults have stuck with one party for many years and that those who switched mostly did so for personal reasons. Some might have moved to the left because of a child in an underfinanced public school, or the inability to get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or a relationship with a gay person who wants to get married. Others may have moved to the right because they’re small-business owners exasperated with regulations, or their tax burdens has increased, or their neighborhoods have high crime rates. But I rarely talk to anyone who’s gone from hating to loving a party (or vice versa) because of the way a president or congressional leaders have handled a crisis.
Sure, a long pattern of behavior—the Republicans repeatedly shutting down the government or the Democrats continually changing the rules on health care—can change perceptions of a political party. But that change occurs over months and years, not during the few days of an exciting story in Washington.
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK has elicited more than the usual carping about how mean and coarse we've all gotten since Camelot. What happened to, as the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby calls it, "gentle" political satire? I push back in my blog at America magazine:
Every generation has its complaints about politics being nastier than ever, but human nature hasn’t changed very much. What’s different today is that it’s more acceptable to mock figures of authority and less acceptable to ridicule powerless groups in society. To many of us, comic depictions of the president of the United States as a buffoon or a liar (whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama) are less offensive than an earlier era’s condescending attitudes toward women, gays and lesbian, African-Americans, and other groups trying to participate in public debate.
Also discussed in the post: a new documentary on Moms Mabley.
At America magazine, I note the coverage of the malfunctioning Obamacare websites and wonder if we can pay a little attention to a more frustrating bureaucracy. An excerpt:
When it comes to election law, the United States has a patchwork of rules and regulations that are constantly changing and often fly against constituents’ wishes. Forms are often badly designed, as noted by Next City: "shoddy design helped explain why a full quarter of the million-plus New Yorkers who voted for mayor didn’t vote for even one of the six measures on the ballot’s back side." People moving from one jurisdiction to another often face unfamiliar requirements (“deadline shock”) in order to exercise a constitutional right, and many local governments show a lack of concern when residents have to spend hours on what should be a simple task. Can we spare some outrage for this debacle?
My November 18 post at America magazine looks at the recent special election for a U.S. House seat in Louisiana, in which a Republican who supports Obamacare's Medicaid expansion upset another Republican pledged to fight everything about the president's health care law. An excerpt:
McAllister did not run as a supporter of Obamacare or a moderate. See his own website: “As our conservative voice, Vance will stand strong for the 2nd Amendment, the unborn, fight to repeal ObamaCare, and reduce the size of government.” The Advocate emphasized his outsider status in reporting the result. (Lead sentence: “Rookie Vance McAllister says he’s never visited Washington, D.C., but now he has a job in the nation’s capital.”) The newspaper also notes that McAllister, the owner of various local businesses, beat Riser, a state senator, with the endorsement of stars from the popular reality-TV series Duck Dynasty, which is filmed in the district. It’s unusual for the outsider in a Republican primary to be considered the (slightly) more pragmatic candidate, so this may just be a case of voters opting a new face over Tea Party orthodoxy when forced to make a choice. In general, the implementation of Obamacare is not going to be helped by outsiders winning Republican primaries.
November 17 is the 40th anniversary of my favorite episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Mary throws a dinner party and almost "kills" Sue Ann's Veal Prince Orloff by making her leave it in the oven a few minutes too long. I ranked "The Dinner Party" No. 6 in my Top 100 Sitcom Episodes of All Time. Part of my reasoning:
The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a "nice" 1970s sitcom in which differences are usually resolved by the end of an episode. In contrast, social situations on the 1990s Frasier, which otherwise shares MTM's sophisticated style, almost always end with characters fleeing in confusion or anger — as is also the case with Seinfeld. Other sitcoms, like Friends and Parks and Recreation, tend to have it both ways, putting its characters through humiliating situations but ending episodes on optimistic notes. "The Dinner Party" probably would be considered too tame for TV today (the Veal Prince Orloff would surely end up on the floor somehow), but it conveys the psychological torture of trying to get people to have a good time better than any of today's meaner sitcoms.
My November 15 post at America magazine takes on the attempts to "fix" Obamacare by guaranteeing that people can keep their existing policies. An excerpt:
The most popular feature of the Affordable Care Act (a ban on insurance companies denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical problems) is incompatible with the most popular fix to the Affordable Care Act (allowing individuals to keep bare-bones policies with relatively cheap premiums). That’s because cheap insurance policies can keep premiums low in part by denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical problems.
So all the proposals to preserve these cheap policies — which are mostly junk policies because they don’t cover anything or exclusionary policies because they keep out the old and sick — may be unworkable. If we had the single-payer health insurance system that conservatives fought so hard to avoid, I suppose Congress could just force the government to keep premiums low for the young and healthy. (It would be like forcing the U.S. Post Office to keep stamps low enough to ensure unprofitability or forcing Amtrak to run unprofitable passenger rail routes. No biggie.) But Obamacare relies on private insurance companies, and neither Democrats nor Republicans have an ideologically sound reason to force them to lose money by freezing low premiums for healthy people even as the law now requires them to sell policies to people with pre-existing conditions who are more likely to file claims.
My November 14 post at America magazine looks at the myth that good-looking, JFK types have an advantage in running for political office. A new study suggests that the physically attractive simply wait for the best opportunities to run, avoiding elections where they have little chance of prevailing. An excerpt from my post:
This makes intuitive sense. A lot of political candidates are recruited to run by party leaders and major campaign contributors, and they may look for confident types that have already succeeded in business or, a bit less often, the entertainment world. Classically handsome candidates like Mitt Romney (running for governor of Massachusetts) and John Edwards (running for U.S. Senate in North Carolina) and charismatic figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger (running for governor of California) have been successful at grabbing their parties’ nominations for tough-but-winnable races. But in each case, the circumstances were such that a schlub with similar views could have also won the general election.
The “hunks don’t like to lose” theory explains why so many fringe candidates — those who shape the debate but don’t have the money or institutional backing to win — are older or more easily caricatured. Think not only of Kucinich and Paul père, but also Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.
I wondered who would be on an equivalent list for Boston, and the always-resourceful commenters at Universal Hub responded with dozens of suggestions, including some unforgettable T riders and "that painter of nudes who works in front of Sonsie." Take a look.