the little girl story by guest blogger, aaron reinitz

A few weeks ago, I came across this post on Facebook:

“Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog. During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?” She replied… “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed with pride! “Wow…what a worthy goal!” I said. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that!” I told her. “What do you mean?” she replied. So I told her, “You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I’ll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out and give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.” She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?” I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.” Her parents aren’t speaking to me anymore.”

 

I like this story a lot. Its like a verbal viral video- short, easy to share, and you hate yourself a little at the end. Also, it does a tidy job of stating conservative fiscal values, which is always fun. But most, it paints a vivid picture of our modern political discourse, that is, dramatically over-simplifying the state of the world in order to succinctly differentiate from the other guy. That’s the part I like best.We’ve seen clear examples of this from all parties, both in the Presidential race as well as those over seats in Congress. The 24-hour news cycle cannot afford to let you forget Governor Romney’s “47%” argument, or President Obama’s “…you didn’t build that,” or Todd Aken’s exploration of biological principals. As an aside, I’m liberal, and one of these examples is not like the other. I believe the President’s statements were taken out of context, while Governor Romney’s were more so a candid moment of transparency, and Akin, well, who knows what that was. But, I’ll admit I’m partial to the President and would imagine those who lean right would make an equal argument to the contrary. Onward.

Arguably, a varying 50%-75% of political news coverage is about who’s brief remark was more offensive to whom, it’s just a fact of life. Its a reflection of our culture, and changing that is like convincing people to stop eating carbs and sweets (by the way, see have you seen this yet?). As The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy said, “… we’re failures.” I’m over it. Preaching critical thinking as the solution, again, as McAvoy, “…trying to civilize.”

The more interesting issue at hand is that political speech, generated by parties and candidates, and perhaps even more so, by the media and those supporting parties on the periphery, treats us all as if we’re the little girl in the story. We’re grown adults, with real-life problems and responsibilities, and at the same time, children. You see it all the time in speeches, debates…. coverage of said speeches and debates (news, social media)… coverage of coverage of said speeches and debates (anyone on TV or in the Press mentioning  Fox News’ easy targets)… etc.

There are certainly reasons why arguments are over simplified, mostly to do with the number of hours in the day and people’s level of interest, but I think we’re better than that. I’m an optimist, and think we shouldn’t give up on talking about issues as if they are real life, mostly because our decisions have actual consequences.

The upcoming debates will be rich with statements like “….gut medicare,” or votes to “…kill social security,” or perhaps,”….allow the middle east to fall into chaos.” These are meaningless, and naked of factual points. And they’re everywhere.  The ‘little girl story’ is really the same. Our best defense is to develop the sense, as a nation, to see through and truly understand them. So with that said, lets re-examine, and without making things super boring, look at how to translate an over simplified point into something that exists in reality.

First, there’s the foundations of the story- the pre-supposed notions that make it possible (much like gravity is to a story about a person riding a bike):

  1. The world is filled with people who have things (the not-poor), and people who do not have things (the poor).
  2. When people are poor, it’s for a logically debatable reason. The homeless guy in the story could work, but does not, implying he is poor because he is unwilling to work (lazy), incapable (stupid), or otherwise preoccupied (on drugs).
  3. Not-poor people pay taxes (i.e. the $50).
  4. It is the will of the not-poor that guides the destiny of the poor.

The story focuses on the little girl’s (our, the readers’) idealism. We’d all like to be in a position to make the world a better place. Then, in practice, party lines must be drawn to define your choices. If you’re a Democrat, you’re in favor of working, earning money, and giving that money to people who don’t work. If you’re a Republican, you believe that the opportunity exists for everyone to work, and in order to build a greater society, they must do that for themselves. But is that true for either side?

Imagine what Act II of the “Fictional Republican” scenario would look like. The little girl waves a wand, and narrator of the story (the one with the lawn who needs mowing), gets a knock on her door from this guy looking for work. In real life, she does one of three things. Startled, she says, “Thanks but no thanks,” or, if he’s not a stellar communicator, she calls the cops, or, if its a state with high gun ownership, maybe this happens. If that hasn’t horrified you, Act II of the “Fictional Democrat” scenario would end with the homeless guy with $50 in his hand on his way to doing this. By the way, on top of all of it, poor people pay taxes too (about 67% of them- source) which shits all over the ‘Make Everything Seem Black-and-White Day’ parade.

The other actor in the story is the homeless guy, who is presumed to be aware of the opportunity to do yard work, but chooses not to try and get the job. He’s not in a temporary stint of homelessness caused by underemployment (i.e. making minimum wage part time, which in the real world, is about 70% of homeless people in the US- source). And of course, in the tradition of brief anecdotes, he could not be a homeless veteran with PTSD (real world – 23-33% of cases – source), or mentally ill without access to medication (real world – 20-25% of cases – source), or addicted to drugs and alcohol (real world – 26%-38% of cases- source).

So what’s the little girl to do? Things just got much tougher. All of a sudden, the possibility exists that the homeless man may want to work but is unaware of the opportunity. Or maybe, there’s some overcome-able obstacle that stands in his way. And we’re still not exactly sure how the Republican, home-owning, free-advice-giver would react to a vagrant showing up at her house.

In a better, more realistic story, the little girl works for the $50, and invests it in the future of her community. Perhaps she finds out that 5 more neighbors require yard work, and with permission, makes a flyer on their behalf seeking under-employed workers in the area (job boards). Perhaps she buys a rake, gloves, and leaf bags, and offers them to the homeless guy as an investment in his future (micro-loans). Maybe, she approaches the homeless guy, tries talking to him like a person, and spends the money to help him get needed medication, or maybe a mass transit pass so he can travel to get work he is aware of (advocacy). In each of these three scenarios, the little girl (us) is focused on solving actual problems, rather than pointing at some vague sense of ‘the other guy’s’ inability to understand the issue. Also, she’s acting as a ‘job creator’, the one untouchable principal held as good in this election cycle.

These choices recognize that she has an opportunity to work, and along with it, an obligation to use her status as ‘not-poor’ to think of her community. That choice does not make her a Democrat, or a Republican. It makes her a citizen.

Written by guest blogger, Aaron Reinitz

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About Antonella Saravia

Antonella is a freelance writer. Graduated from Purdue University, Antonella is based out of New York City and Nicaragua, where she was raised. Follow her via Twitter @tonesaravia & Instagram via @tsaravia.

3 comments

  1. Andy Monfried

    Aaron, excellent and well written. Although we sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum — I truly appreciate (and respect) the articulate way you’ve laid out the piece. Kudos to you.

    Andy Monfried

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