Mike Kueber's Blog

January 26, 2015

Kristof on empathy and moral superiority

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

Bill O’Reilly likes to dismiss NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof as typical of a far-left, Pollyannaish ideologue. Kristof’s column yesterday, titled “Where’s the Empathy,” provides strong support for O’Reilly’s position.

The thesis of Kristof’s column is that Americans, especially rich Americans, feel no empathy for the struggles of his high-school friend who recently “died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.” America killed Kevin Green.

Kristof concluded his column with the following:

  • I have trouble diagnosing just what went wrong in that odyssey from sleek distance runner to his death at 54, but the lack of good jobs was central to it. Sure, Kevin made mistakes, but his dad had opportunities for good jobs that Kevin never had. So, Kevin Green, R.I.P. You were a good man — hardworking and always on the lookout for someone to help — yet you were overturned by riptides of inequality. Those who would judge you don’t have a clue. They could use a dose of your own empathy.”

Fortunately for his readers, Kristof provided a bit of Kevin Green’s life story in his column, and I suspect most readers will not have as much trouble diagnosing factors that were actually within Green’s ability to control:

  • Work life. Although Green’s dad, despite being illiterate with a third-grade education, was able to make a decent living as a union worker, those jobs have gone away. Millions of sons and daughters of union employees have learned that they must acquire news skills and more education to remain in the middle class. Kevin didn’t learn this and so when his union job went away, he fell out of the middle class.
  • Personal life.He fell in love and had twin boys that he doted on. But because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.” Huh? Financial struggles might prevent someone from having kids, but I don’t see what that has to do with getting married. “Soon afterward, his girlfriend moved out, took the kids and asked for child support. The loss of his girlfriend, kids and job was a huge blow.” According to Keven’s younger brother, he developed self-esteem issues. Well, yes, that seems appropriate. “Kevin’s weight ballooned to 350 pounds, and he developed diabetes and had a couple of heart attacks. He grew marijuana and self-medicated with it, Clayton says, and was arrested for drug offenses.”

Eventually, Green qualified for some sort of disability, but even his younger brother conceded that the desperately needed monthly disability “also hurt him because he might have looked harder for a job if he hadn’t been getting those checks.” (That reminds me of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s admonition that, “The issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it but what it costs those who receive it.”)

With respect to the welfare, which was really what prompted this column, Kristof said, “Yet it’s absurd to think that people like Kevin are somehow living it up. After child support deductions, he was living on about $180 a month plus food stamps and a small income from selling home-grown pot.” Kristof supported his assertion of “somehow living it up” by referring to a Pew poll that found that “wealthy Americans mostly agree that poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

Not surprisingly, readers who actually take the hyperlink to the poll will find that Kristof mischaracterized it. Actually, the poll separates respondents into five cohorts based, not on their wealth, but on their financial security – i.e., whether they have savings and checking accounts, a credit card, and retirement savings and don’t have credit problems or receive welfare.

The respondents were asked two related questions:

  1. Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.
  2. Poor people have hard lives because the government benefits don’t go far enough to help them life decently.

So, essentially, the choice is between having it easy because things are handed to them (which Green’s brother mentioned) and having it hard because they can’t live decently. There is nothing about living it up.

And when you look at the poll’s percentages, the numbers don’t show a great divide in America based on financial security. The percentages who agree with the two statements are as follows, from most financially secure to least:

  1. 54%, 57%, 47%, 39%, 29%
  2. 36%, 36%, 45%, 54%, 67%

Surely, more people who are not financially secure (i.e., more dependent on government benefits) would be expected to think benefits should be more generous while more of those who are financially secure would share Moynihan’s concern about the negative effect of dependency on welfare.

But Kristof and his ilk prefer to characterize Moynihan’s concern as a lack of empathy. To them, big-spending progressives are morally superior to conservatives, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It’s hard to argue with people who think like that.


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