I honestly used to believe that if American liberals and conservatives got together and had a non-combative exchange of ideas, they’d find that they agreed on more than they disagreed. I don’t think that anymore and I haven’t for awhile. And if I needed any reassurance that this was the case, I found it on National Review’s The Corner, where David French wrote the following:
It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.
Earlier this week, Walter Russell Mead highlighted disturbing research showing that the poor — far more than the rich — are disconnected from church and religion. While church attendance is dropping among all social classes, it’s falling off a cliff for the poorest and least-educated Americans. In other words, the deeper a person slides into poverty, the more they’re disconnected from the very values that can save them and their families.
It’s amazing how much wrong French was able to pack into two paragraphs. I don’t have the time/energy to go through everything that is wrong/offensive here, but I’ll give just a couple of examples.
1) “It is simply a fact…”: Generally you don’t want to start your argument by assuming it to be true.
2) If an American…completes their education: Sure, it’s as simple as that. Complete your education. What is meant by education I wonder? high school diploma? What exactly does French think that a high school diploma at an inner city school gets a person in today’s economy? College education? Ok and who is paying for it? Are you, Mr. French? Graduate school? are you kidding me?
3)”The Poor” aren’t a group that can be generalized: This is so obvious it pains me to have to even point it out. People are poor for all kinds of reasons. Some were born into poverty and had no real chance to work there way out of it, others fell into poverty for reasons outside their own control (an illness, the recession, etc…). French isn’t concerned with any distinctions though, except for a religious distinction. He doesn’t care why the poor are poor, he just wants a story to tell himself so that he need not feel bad that so many people in this country live in poverty. The fact that French thinks it’s even reasonable to talk about “the poor” as one mass of people is offensive.
4) Does French even know what is meant by Depravity? Depravity is a pretty strong word and if you’re gonna use it, best to back it up with something (anything!). Is it depraved to get divorced? Are the 50% of marriages that end in divorce evidence that 50% of all married couples in this country are depraved? Interestingly, french’s cross-link for “depravity of the poor” is to his own post which still says nothing about what he considers to constitute “depravity”. One can only assume he means secularism because he proceeds to lament the fact that many poor people in the U.S. are not religious. Which brings me to my next criticism.
5) The poor are poor because they’re not religious?! Part I: Then how exactly would French explain all the places where most people are both religious and poor? For most of human history afterall, most people have been poor and most people have been religious. In many european countries where poverty is nearly non-existent (scandinavia for example) religious observance is also nearly non-existent. Now I won’t go as far as to say that secularism leads to wealth (that would be as stupid an argument as French’s converse), but French is too lazy to even consider alternatives to what he wishes to be true.
6) The poor are poor because they’re not religious?! Part II: French cites to an article by Walter Russell Mead that cites a study. Mead’s article notes that “Americans with higher incomes attend religious services more often, and those who have experienced unemployment at some point over the past 10 years attend less often.” Well, this is interesting. Mead describes the study as concluding that church attendance correlates to poverty/wealth, while French would have you believe that poverty/wealth are a function of church attendance. Could it be that the poor have less time to spend at church because they are, I don’t know, trying to make ends meet? Could it be that the poor find little solace in religion because the world seems to have turned its back on them? No, clearly, to Mr. French, they are poor because they don’t believe in The Great Gig in the Sky. Mr. French either never took statistics or spent the whole class praying for good grades instead of paying attention. He wants you to believe that the poor deserve to be poor. And he wants you to believe that the rich deserve to be rich. And on top of that he wants you to believe that the rich are rich because they are religious. These are all issues of causation, but French hasn’t bothered to assemble any evidence of causation.
7) Always look at what the study actually was about: French fails to mention that the study in question ”focuses on whites because black and Latino religiosity is less divided by education and income.” So let me get this straight. French wants us to believe the poor are poor because they are depraved and not religious. So he cites to a study that excluded certain categories of people because those categories of people don’t break into the poor and non-religious vs. rich and religious dichotomy that is his thesis.
I’m sure there are many more problems with French’s post, these are just the first seven that occurred to me. One last thing I’ll note. French’s post assumes there are no poor people in his audience – he discusses the poor as if they were lab rats. In some ways, that’s all you need to know about his mindset.