The Campaign Spot

The State of Our Union Is Dependent Upon the State of Our Families

From Tuesday’s Morning Jolt:

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.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Sinking Collusion Ship

The entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative was always implausible. One, the Washington swamp of fixers such as Paul Manafort and John and Tony Podesta was mostly bipartisan and predated Trump. Two, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far tougher on Vladimir Putin than were those of Barack ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
World

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More
Culture

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
U.S.

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More