Opinion Extra

Buchanan: Singling out the poor

Andre Bauer's stunningly careless comment likening the poor to stray animals is not offensive because it is politically incorrect. It is offensive because it is just plain incorrect, prejudicial and mean. As a leader who has been granted the public trust expressing, this kind of economic prejudice is not only shameful but also dangerous.

Even if it was effective public policy to deny food to hungry, poor children (and it is not), it still would be immoral public policy. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why there are so many children in our state who live in such severe economic distress. Is it poor, lazy parents' fault that South Carolina has fewer available jobs than almost any other state in our nation? Is it poor, lazy parents' fault that so many of the jobs we do have pay only a non-livable wage, and therefore one must work more than one job to provide for one's family?

Equating poverty with irresponsibility is no more helpful than equating constitutional officers with irresponsibility. While there might be valid evidence in some cases, we should not assume that it is necessarily the result of our government creating a dependency. Irresponsibility transcends economic class, and we all know of too many personal examples to allow ourselves to think (or blame) otherwise.

This is why our lieutenant governor is dead wrong: South Carolina does not need to have an honest conversation about the cycle of government dependency among its poorest residents. We need an honest conversation about the cycle of government dependency among all of our residents - and corporations.

What we call a "hand out" when talking about the poor, we label as "investing in economic development" when the beneficiary is a corporation. What we call "dependency" when talking about consequences of aid to the poor, we label as "keeping taxes low" when describing our insistence on subsidizing giant tobacco corporations with the lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax. What we call "free lunch" when talking about 58 percent of public school children, we label as "working lunch" when describing the free meals that our public officials receive from the corporations, tobacco special interest groups and other industries that are just looking for "a little regulatory relief" or a subtle change to the tax code for a more "business-friendly" climate.

When the Israelites finally got out of slavery in Egypt and arrived in a new land filled with promise and opportunity, they needed a reminder to be on guard against harboring a shameful and dangerous prejudice against the poor. This clear crisp summary of the law (and of Christian ethics regarding matters related to the poor) comes from the book of Deuteronomy (15:7-11):

"If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns ... do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought ... and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and your would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you .... Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'"

We are similarly blessed in South Carolina with a land filled with promise and opportunity. We need to be on guard against harboring shameful and dangerous prejudices against the poor. And we desperately need leadership that is committed to thoughtful and comprehensive approaches to complex problems. Finally, we need to trust that we can be generous, ungrudging and blessed at the same time.