The State of Our Union Is Entirely Dependent Upon the State of Our Families and Communities
So the big theme of tonight’s State of the Union address is going to be income inequality.
One of President Obama’s big ideas is getting a bunch of large corporations to “sign a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed when making hiring decisions.”
Shrug. That’s nice. I guess we’ll see whether the CEOs’ pledge to the White House filters down to the human-resources departments, and whether those corporate recruiters will give those long-term unemployed folks a call, or find some other reason to not call.
You can lay the problems of the unemployed, underemployed, poor and struggling at the feet of corporate America’s HR office, but we all know there’s more to it than that.
Mr. President, meet Joe. (Not his real name.)
Joe’s a friend of mine. He grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances, in one of the blue-collar corners of the Northeast. His dad wasn’t around. Money was tight.
Joe studied hard, went to a good school, and got both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He moved to the D.C. area, where he works in education. I don’t know how much money he makes, but from what I see, he’s doing okay. He married a great girl, and they’re raising two kids in the suburbs. The guy’s one of the most devoted fathers I know.
The rest of Joe’s family back home . . . is still having a tough time. Kids without fathers around. Cops getting called over domestic disturbances. Real concerns about whether the children are being raised in the kind of environment that every kid deserves.
From where I sit, Joe’s a role model, a spectacular example of rising above hardship and living the American dream. As I understand it, the rest of Joe’s family back home doesn’t appreciate him that way, and a good portion of their interactions are marked by a tone of resentment towards him.
Sometimes we on the Right can be a bit insufficiently empathetic to those stuck in bad situations. It’s hard for a kid to grow up with his values and priories in the right place without any role models. It’s hard to function when you’re surrounded by dysfunction. There’s a lot less room for error at those poorer communities, those with more violence, fewer stable families, fewer “little platoons” to help a family through tough times.
But I get really steamed when I hear about Joe’s family, and the way they resent the success he’s had in life, his rock-solid bond with his family, the money he makes, the fact that he moved away from their dysfunctional environment. Dang it, he did what you’re supposed to do, and the fruits of his labor and good judgment are obvious. He’s the one they should be emulating. Instead, they seek out ways to convince themselves that he’s the bad guy, that somehow he did something wrong by pursuing a different, and ultimately happier and more successful, path than they did.
We can argue about how representative this individual situation is, but I suspect it’s not that unusual. Yes, poverty is partially driven by a lack of opportunities and sometimes misfortune. But judgment and habit and values are big factors as well. This isn’t to say that the poor deserve to be poor, only that they cannot rise above their problems until they take responsibility for their own situation in life and resolve to make better choices: to stay in school; to stick around and take responsibility when they get a girl pregnant; to avoid drugs; to avoid excessive drinking, to not resolve every dispute with fists through doors, windows, or faces; to put a little money away for a rainy day; to put their children’s interest first. Those aren’t always easy choices, particularly when life gets tough, but they pay off in the long run.
Of course, there’s no Federal Department of Instilling a Sense of Individual Responsibility. So we probably won’t hear much about that in tonight’s State of the Union.