once upon a time there really was a war on poverty

THE WAR ON POVERTY as run by “liberal” Democrats under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and by pre-compassionate “conservative” Rep*blicans under the leadership of Ronald Reagan in the’80s differed hugely because of the attitudes of the two groups. Here find two ways of looking at the same problem:

Only an ignorant person would maintain that laziness or some moral defect is the source of poverty.

“On May 5, 1964, four months after Lyndon Johnson committed America to a War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver addressed a meeting of the Advertising Council in Washington, DC.

At the time, Shriver was working two jobs: he was head of the Peace Corps and, simultaneously, had been tapped by the new president as a special assistant to run Johnson’s anti-poverty initiative.

Standing before his audience, Shriver talked of a meeting that he’d had with an unnamed journalist the previous week. The journalist told him:

‘Before you can do anything about poverty, you’ll have to fumigate the closet in which Americans keep their ideas about the poor. You’ll have to rid America of all its clichés about the poor, clichés like the one which says that only the lazy and worthless are poor, or that the poor are always with us.’

‘Only an ignorant person would maintain that laziness or some other moral defect is the source of poverty,’ [Shriver] asserted. ‘As if being poor were somehow un-American.’

And so, in the early days of the war, Shriver launched an all-out effort to shift Americans’ understanding of poverty and transform the language in which poor people were framed. It was an empathy push on a par with that used by abolitionists, suffragists, and civil rights leaders to expand the borders of democracy.

A campaign, says cognitive linguist George Lakoff, that was in many ways the mature expression of an empathetic language that had emerged over nearly three centuries of Western political philosophy and embedded itself in American political practices.

Says Lakoff, ‘The American conception of democracy developed over a period of time and is based on empathy. Democracy is based on citizens caring about each other.’ “

The above statement was taken from the article “The Battle Hymn of the War on Poverty ” by Sasha Abramsky for The Nation (the February 2, 2014 issue). The article’s subtitle is “How the call to empathy helped mobilize a nation.”

And then came the welfare queen

Twenty years later Ronald Reagan would alert the country to the truth of the unemployed and impoverished when he unveiled the pièce de résistance of his anti-War on Poverty—the “Welfare Queen.”

She used 80 names to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare [to make] $150,000 a year.

With this one simple phrase, the president was able to unite all Republican voters and a whole helluva lot more Democrats—who should have know better!—in an effort to deprive downtrodden fellow citizens from many benefits of what is generally referred to as the “social safety net.”

That the conditions by which ol’ Ronnie defined this welfare cheater didn’t exist anywhere—was, in fact, apparently made out of whole cloth by the prez’s misanthropic advisors/speechwriters—didn’t stop the DLM (you know, that “damn liberal media”) from running with it as fast and as far as they could!

Anyway, I babble: back in the 1960s, LBJ and his advisors were attempting to address the imbalances of the American economic social political judicial systems. It is well worth your time to read the article above and see what it was like before the Reagan Revolution and the ongoing Republican-led War on the Impoverished . . .

Strunkandwhiten It!

The phrase made out of whole cloth means to fabricate a story or a lie. I believe that most of us understand immediately that meaning, through either repeated exposure or context. But where did such a phrase originate. In “On Language; Out of the Whole Cloth” on the New York Times Magazine site:

“A whole cloth, or broadcloth, is material of the full size as originally manufactured—not the end bit or remnant or piece cut out of the whole for reuse in a quilt or smaller-size garment. Like a sense of the whole person—well-balanced, together—whole cloth has integrity, akin to ‘all wool and a yard wide.’

Then, early in the 19th century, the phrase’s meaning flipped. In 1840, the Canadian novelist Thomas Haliburton, in his dialect-rich The Clockmaker, had his Yankee character named Sam Slick say: ‘All that talk about her timper was made out of whole cloth, and got up a-purpose. What a fib! It’s all made out of whole cloth.’

In his book A Hog On Ice & Other Curious Expressions Charles Funk speculated that tailors were suspected of being deceptive: ‘Instead of using whole material, as they advertised, they were really using patched or pieced goods, or, it might be, cloth which had been falsely stretched to appear to be of full width.’ The material presented as being of whole cloth, on that theory, had become suspect.”



HEADER IMAGE: In 1976, Reagan referred to a woman who “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Well, it wasn’t all whole cloth, although it was hugely exaggerated: in 1974, Linda Taylor of Chicago was accused of swindling the government of as much as $100,000 TOTAL over a course of years. By the time of her trial in 1977, it was down to $8,000 obtained through four aliases. Not whole cloth, but close . . .

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