A Bootful of Motivation

by J.D. Tuccille
July 26, 1996

Eons ago, during my last year of high school, I was faced with the age-old choice of “What next?” I didn’t really want to go to college — I’d dreaded grammar school, despised junior high, and hated high school with a passion I now reserve for oil-slicked roads and bad Chinese food, and I didn’t see how four more years of stultifying academia were going to improve my relations with the powers-that-be and my fellow man. My father, to give him credit, was very level-headed about the whole matter. “You don’t have to go to college,” he told me during the first civil discussion we’d had in months, “but you do have to get a job and get the hell out.”

I thought about the matter very seriously as the application deadlines slid by. I realistically considered my ... errr ... limited job skills, my prickly (some say) personality, and the scant opportunities in any industry that wouldn’t require me to bust my ass for a paycheck. Then I bit the bullet, took the path of least perspiration, and filled out the college applications.

My father did me (and himself) a favor. Had he said (as some parents do) “That’s all right; take some time off and decide what you want to do. I’ll pick up the tab,” I’d still be on the couch watching game shows and drinking the old man’s beer. Like most folks, given the choice, what I wanted to do was nothing — work sucks, and I knew that as well as anybody at 17. Hell, if I was him, I’d have eliminated the college option and kicked my punk ass out the door.

That’s why the debate over welfare “reform” always astonishes me. No matter how well-intentioned any program of aid, support, loans, or out-and-out socialized breastfeeding is, it always presents the risk of an awful lot of folks sitting on the couch watching game shows and drinking the old man’s beer. After that kind of put-up-your-feet generosity, if you don’t boot them out, why should they leave?

The current proposals passed by the House and the Senate don’t even apply a very firm boot. They’re more of a love-tap from a ballet slipper, saying: “All right, you can watch ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy,’ but then you definitely have to clean the dishes and go home.” Tough love, it’s not. But to hear the screams you’d think Gingrich and Co. had reestablished debtors’ prison. New York’s Senator Moynihan even took the time to ungrapple himself from a bottle of scotch and denounce the proposed reforms as the most “regressive and brutal act of social policy” this century.

Brutal? The bills passed by both the House and the Senate still provide for five years of welfare benefits, with extensions available for “hardship” cases (though requiring work after two years). The House version imposes an eminently sensible “family cap” that refuses extra money for children born after a mother has thrown herself on the mercy of the taxpayers (Birth control, people! If you can’t pay your own way, wear a glove!). Immigrants would be largely excluded from the dole on the assumption that charity begins at home — their home.

These are not earth-shattering moves, no matter what the frustrated wet-nurses of the Washington Post say. “It’s a betrayal,” they whine, “a betrayal of FDR’s New Deal!” Well, yes, that’s the whole idea! FDR is one of the last of the ‘30s-era fascists to retain a halo of respectability and it’s about time we jettisoned the last, sad baggage of the era of court-packing and the paternalistic state.

Of course, some people do need help. But there’s no reason that such assistance should come from the replenished-at-gunpoint coffers of the state. And there’s every reason to look at what has been taken away from the poor to make them that way before we start handing out the freebies.

When my father suggested that I shouldn’t let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, he didn’t append: “Make sure you get my permission before you take a job — and that permission is gonna be expensive. And, oh yeah, whatever you earn — I get a cut.” But that’s what the government does with the poor. Licenses and permits drive the costs of lots of entry-level jobs into the stratosphere so that cabbies have to cough up tens of thousands of dollars for permission to pick up customers, hot dog vendors drop thousands on permits and locations, and hair stylists have to attend special schools and pass exams mired in the coiffures of the ‘50s so that they can try their hand at the ever-evolving cuts of the ‘90s. Then, once the lucky winners have leapt through the hoops, they (and the rest of us) are held-up for the government’s ever-expanding take.

So yeah, everybody off the couch; game show time is over forever. But let’s also stop mugging people on their way out the door.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

Home Welcome Scribblings Links Full Auto Write Me