Whence Comes Dignity?

The shallow thinking that dominates the left’s political discourse never ceases to annoy me.

When Michigan state senator Bruce Caswell proposed recently that the use of an annual $80 state clothing voucher be restricted to purchasing clothing in second-hand shops (a proposal he has since significantly amended), leftists on my friends list and elsewhere went absolutely ballistic. “Caswell is a Rethuglican asswipe who hates poor kids!” howled the typical response.

Perhaps. Or perhaps Caswell simply wanted to ensure that poor children in Michigan actually get the clothing they need. At the moment, the aforementioned voucher is given directly to the parents (or foster parents) in the form of cash. That means the Michigan government cannot at this time guarantee that the $80 vouchers they dispense will really be used to buy clothing. For all we know, some parents may be using the little extra money to see to their own desires.

Moreover, $80 is not a lot if you’re buying new. Even if you shop at Wal-Mart, $80 will net you roughly five pairs of pants and five tops. Forget about underwear. Forget about socks and shoes. Forget about a coat, which every child needs if he or she is going to survive the Michigan winter. If you shop second-hand, however, you’re likely to get at least a little more bang for your state-provided buck. Granted, no matter where you go, $80 is not enough to buy clothes for a whole year (fortunately, these parents get additional cash support elsewhere), but if there’s a way that this voucher can be stretched to its absolute limit, shouldn’t we encourage such stretching? Isn’t it better to provide poor kids with more clothing?

If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you have a proper understanding of government’s responsibilities in re: the disadvantaged. Most people – including most conservatives – don’t object to the idea of a basic social safety net. But BASIC is the key word. Government should ensure that poor individuals get adequate preventative health care, nutrition, shelter, and clothing — the fundamental necessities of life. It is not the business of government to see to people’s wants. It sure would be nice if every little Johnny could get a pair of cool Nike sneakers or a whole new wardrobe every year, but neither of those things qualifies as a basic need.

Has that stopped leftists from declaring that any insistence upon frugality is an attack on the dignity of the poor? No. Apparently, these lefties still live by the middle school code. Do they realize how ridiculous they sound? Dignity does not come from the clothes you wear or the things you own. It’s a spiritual quality, and as such, it is not something that can be granted by any governmental body.

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