Saturday, November 24, 2007

Poor reasoning

Do as I say, not as I do

No holiday is complete without a homily from the paterfamilias. The target of each lesson is the unrepentantly liberal eldest son. Me. Hope springs eternal in Dad's breast, refusing to abandon his efforts to get me to appreciate the rigorously logical pronouncements of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Fox News. You almost have to admire that kind of persistence in the face of constant disappointment.

It's almost evolved into a ritual. My usual practice is to depart from the family's Central California farm as early as I can manage the morning after the holiday gathering. Mom & Dad have adapted by having breakfast with me at a favorite restaurant next to Highway 99 (my escape route to the north). We chit-chat over bacon and eggs until Dad decides it's time for his lecture.

“You're probably too young to remember the Johnson administration.”

“Dad, I was a teenager during Johnson's Great Society.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, he had this idea that he was going to end poverty.”

“I remember the war on poverty. Johnson would be remembered more kindly today for things like that if it hadn't been for the Vietnam mess.”

“All his war on poverty did was make more people dependent on government. They just want handouts.”

Like farm subsidies? Dairy price supports? Irrigation water from publicly funded dams and canal systems? No, I didn't actually say any of that. Dad wouldn't have appreciated it.

“When you see poor people on TV complaining about their lives, they're always living in a mess. They have no personal pride. You can tell they're just lazy.”

Dad thrives on context-free anecdotes and the infallibility of his personal observations. He's the sort of person who points at an accused criminal on the television and declares, “You can tell he did it!” Only the pope's infallibility exceeds Dad's.

For some reason, Dad doesn't recall (or never knew) that over 20% of Americans lived below the poverty line when John F. Kennedy took office in 1961. After his successor's war on poverty, it had dropped to about 12%. While Dad might disagree, I think Johnson deserves some credit for that.


jonathan said...

If I'm reading that chart right, the world stopped improving when?

In grade school, everything was getting better, every year. Set me up for major disappointment as a teenager...

Courtney said...

My parents will do this when I'm older, and they slowly realize being liberal (and atheist) isn't a "college stage." I'm not looking forward to it.

Ian said...

Wow, look at that - you can see Reagan and both Bushes on that graph. (It's also interesting that poverty rates climb after a recession, not during.)

William said...

And the second-largest downward turn (after Johnson) is Clinton. It's quite striking. (The third-largest drop seems to be in Reagan's second term, but it still fails to bring the poverty level back to where it was before he took office.)