Biases – Who Cares For the Poor?

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy walking the district, and not just because I get to meet people who agree with me.  You learn more from the people who disagree, and how they disagree.  Usually, we manage to do that without being disagreeable.  After all, it’s surprising to me when people taken the campaign more personally than I do.

But then, there are the times that are revealing.  I started a conversation with one voter, who asked how I felt about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.  I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I support it, especially the provisions that require taxpayer approval for any increase in taxes.  I firmly believe that recipients of new funds should have to make the case of the worthiness of their cause to the people whose money they’ll be spending, not merely to legislators who see an opportunity to buy votes with taxpayer dollars.

The voter, who, as it turns out, works for a very left-of-center think tank here in Colorado, vociferously disagreed.  Nothing wrong so far.  Then, this:

She: I’m a member of society, and I’m willing to do my part and pay more if I have to
Me: Fair enough, but you do realize that there are plenty of private charities that you can contribute to, that are just as much a part of society, and do just as much good
She: Well, you go ahead and contribute to your religious groups (slight pause) and your secular groups….
Me: Ma’am, please don’t put words in my mouth.  I didn’t mention religious groups at all.
She (spitting nails at this point): Well, I know what you meant.
Me: No, you don’t.  Although, remember that the soup tastes just as good when the Catholics serve it.

This is problematic on a number of levels.  I don’t have any reason to believe the woman was reacting speficially to my yarmulke.  That is, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she has a problem with religion in general.  But the close-minded opposition to the assumed close-mindedness of the religious is an especially destructive sort of prejudice.  It undermines our civil society, those institutions that exist independently of the government, and provide a community connection for both the giver and the receiver.

There is also, perhaps a cautionary tale here for those religious (and secular) organizations whom the government uses to provide needed social services.  These groups, seeing an opportunity to do more, can all too easily be converted into clients of the state, dependent on the government not only for money for service delivery, but also for general overhead.  And after that, they can become easy prey for those who, like my neighbor, hold them in disdain.

Nobody ought dispute the need for a government safety net.  But the temptation to “do more,” laden though it is with good intentions and sympathy for those who need our help, also carries its own risks.

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