Opinion » Bill Cope

"P" as in "Poor"

"J" as in "jerk"

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Generally, I think Bill Maher is a funny guy and generally, I like his show (Real Time, on HBO). But I must admit, it bothers me a tad that he always feels so obliged to present a right-wing voice for balance, knowing good and well that right wingers seldom return the favor on their shows. It's just not in the nature of right-wingers to give a damn about balance.

But I suppose Maher's generosity is worth it in the long run, because more often than not, the conservative guests manage to say something so ridiculous that they end up strengthening the liberal position simply by opening their mouths. After all, it is in the nature of right-wingers to be ridiculous.

On a recent episode, Maher's right winger was P.J. O'Rourke. There was a time I believed O'Rourke to be funny, too. Thirty-five years ago, I thought his National Lampoon was about as hilarious as printed material could get. Seriously ... fart jokes, raunchy stories, naked coeds--what more could a young dude want? I realize now that O'Rourke and his magazine weren't so much funny as infantile, and we all know how easy it is for young dudes to confuse "infantile" with "funny." But at the time, it knocked me out.

So anyway, in the course of a discussion on how the issue of poverty doesn't seem to be a concern for the Bush administration, O'Rourke said, "I hate Democrats. I just hate them. All these years, from FDR's New Deal to LBJ's Great Society, they've been saying they wanted to help poor people. Well? Do poor people look like they've been helped?"

So let me see if I have this right ... does Mr. O'Rourke hate Democrats for trying to solve a persistent social problem that Republicans have addressed in no way other than to ridicule the efforts of Democrats to solve it?

Or are Democrats so detestable because--even after 80-odd years of trying--they have failed and there are still plenty of poor people around?

Or is he bothered only that Democrats haven't improved on the way poor people look?

Whatever he meant, I'm not worried that P. J.'s attack on Democrats did any lasting damage. First of all, ever since he discovered there's more money in the right-wing opinion biz than in infantile humor, nobody listens to O'Rourke anymore but his fellow right-wingers. (On a sliding scale running from "irrelevant" to "is Somebody," I'd give him about a "Mildly Annoying Presence.")

Secondly, any grown man who still goes by his cutesy-pootsy initials mustn't be taken too seriously, anyway. Even by right-wingers.

And thirdly, his attitude towards poor people isn't exactly something he came up with himself. It's rather standardized Republican ooze, isn't it? ... that by helping poor people, you only make them dependent on your help, which ultimately does them more harm than being poor. Ask any dedicated conservative to chose between dependency and ... say ... malnutrition--and he'll pick malnutrition every time. Particularly as it applies to others.

Oddly enough, though, Republicans only object to assisting poor people when it's the government doing it. It all traces back to this idolatrous faith right-wingers have in laissez faire and their Golden Rule that government should involve itself in no activity whatsoever that a private enterprise can gouge a buck from. In a perfect conservative world, government would be employed only to distribute huge gobs of money to well-connected contractors, and as to the impoverished, their cold, hungry asses should fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of registered charities and faith-based relief organizations.

Yet ... if the absence of poor people is the only acceptable standard of success in an anti-poverty effort--and I'm doing my best to think like P.J. O'Rourke here--mustn't those registered charities and faith-based relief organizations be judged with the same damning evidence used on the Democrats? Take the Salvation Army, for example. It's been tackling the poor people prob since 1865--about 70 years before FDR's New Deal--so by Pee Jay's own criteria, doesn't that make the Salvation Army twice as contemptible as Democrats?

And various Catholic reliefs have been feeding the hungry and clothing the cold since ... well, heck, about as far back as there have been Catholics. So don't they belong on the same pillory as those do-gooding no-goodniks?

After all, these choir boys and sob sisters have been saying they wanted to help poor people, too. For centuries, in some cases. And excuse me, but do poor people look like they've been helped? So where is O'Rourke's outrage over the complete failure of kind-hearted Christians to erase poverty? Or to make poor people look less like poor people, even?

Ah, but perhaps I'm trying to compare New Deal apples to Sunday school oranges. I suppose the only fair way to do this is to look at how well pure free market forces have dealt with the presence of poor people. Right? I mean, Adam Smith imagined as far back as 1776 (the year he set forth on An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, for those of you who dwell on time frames) that a laissez faire economy would improve the general welfare of all citizens. That's over a century and a half of raging private enterprise working to "raise all boats," as it were, before the despicable FDR came along.

So let us journey back to those pre-New Deal days and search for the absence of poor people. Really, since O'Rourke made his decision to become a spokesman for the right (based solely on results, we assume), he must have reason to believe poor people had virtually disappeared by the Great Depression. Or, at the least, that they didn't look so poor, eh?

Oh my. It didn't take long to find poor people, did it? Seedy-looking poor people galore. The early 20th century was full of 'em, and after all that Republican boat raising at work. So how can PJ not hate Repu ...

Oh! Wait a minute here. My mistake. Darn, I've approached this whole thing based on the supposition that O'Rourke actually cares that Democrats have failed in the poor people department. And furthermore, that he gives a crap whether or not poor people are helped in the first place. Stupid me. See, right-wingers don't need poor people as an excuse to hate Democrats. They hate Democrats simply because Democrats at least try, and they don't.

But right-wingers do need poor people for another reason. Since Democrats make them look so bad, they need someone around to look better than. It's, like, their idea of balance, I guess.