When I was growing up in California, my parents took a newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. Every day, before school, I would read about California Democrats. I remember clearly that their standard response to any and every policy proposal was the same, “What about the poor?” Want to build a road? What about the poor? Want to build a sewer? What about the poor? Want to build a luxury hotel? What about the poor? Regarding the luxury hotel, a certain percentage of the hotel rooms had to be set aside so that poor people could enjoy luxury hotel rooms.
Even as a teenager, this seemed like the dumbest thing in the world. Do poor people really benefit from have a certain number of luxury hotel rooms set aside for them? Really, does that help? Might there be other benefits and efforts that would be more effective? It seemed to me that what was driving the incessant questioning of “What about the poor?” wasn’t so much a real concern about the poor but about politics and political power. Specifically, the question “What about the poor?” was as much about the poor as it was about Democrats achieving political power.
The process by which the question, “What about the poor?” helps Democrats to achieve political power wasn’t clear to be then as this was before I learned the terms, “identity politics,” “political correctness,” “social justice,” and “virtue signaling,” but it was clear that the energy and concern seemed more driven by self-interest than empathy.
Several emotional dynamics drive the Democrat question, “What about the poor?” The first is, in California, intelligent, talented, and cooperative people working with other intelligent, talented, and cooperative people in a beautiful land creates a lot of wealth. The California Democrats, in contrast, seemed not so intelligent, talented, and cooperative, and yet they were very ambitious and not a little envious. The question, “What about the poor?” allows them to insert themselves into the activities and intelligent, talented, and cooperative people and control them, resulting in political power and access to tax dollars.
Moreover, such questioning is difficult to argue against. The for arguments allow the not-so-intelligent, not-so-talented, and not-so-cooperative to be speakers of truth and champions of justice without thinking to hard. And the newspaper articles and glowing TV interviews almost write themselves. Ultimately the California Democrat question, “What about the poor?” is dumb, ineffective at helping the poor, but effective at helping Democrats achieve career success.
For many years, this was just explained away as part of the cost of doing business, even though, as a teenager, I could tell this line of reasoning was effective in the short-term but ultimately dumb. However, the costs of doing business this way seem to have grown while the benefits, as I thought back then, never really obtained. California’s recent flirtations with high-speed rail, impossibly expensive healthcare, and decaying infrastructure all show that these casts cannot be borne indefinitely…