Alternet, San Francisco, CA, (ran NY-Metroland), June 22, 1994:
Note: Straight ASCII text Please check paragraph end markers before reformatting "_" marks beginning and end of italics
Travis Charbeneau 3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221 email@example.com Phone: 804 358 0417 www.travischarbeneau.com
Revenge on the _Untermenschen_ Travis Charbeneau slug "unter" 819 words
PULL QUOTE: "Young, mostly white, teenaged girls are questing for some primal source of meaning in their otherwise barren existences. Pregnancy as primal romance promises to deliver."
During the McLaughlin Group, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift ridicules President Clinton's proposed welfare reforms for being fixated on poverty-stricken, pregnancy-prone adolescent girls. Ms. Clift characterizes these as being "among the least empowered people" in the country and surely the least capable of wrecking it. Is she right? It's certainly true that the core of the President's program, especially since he began looking for ways to appease the far right, is "tough love" aimed at curbing free love among American teens. Teen pregnancies have aggravated an already-metastasizing underclass, welfare expenditures, crime. There's also the distorted values issue: providing rewards like day care, medical care, and job training to the mothers of little bastards while legitimate families are ignored. So the President dons his "New Democrat" costume, complete with cape and mask, and sets out to discipline adolescents who are dragging America down. Is _he_ right (as in "correct")? What other "special interest," even those represented by lizard-loafered lobbyists in DC, has more power to disrupt American society than teen moms? Their enlarging of the underclass is creating more ballast than our ship of state can carry; a Third World below decks clamoring for more and more provisions even as we turn into the headwinds of the new global ("productive but jobless") economy. If we don't clamp down on these people, they will pollute the Reich ... um, the Republic. The Nazis had a word for "underclass": _untermenschen_, "subhuman." Now, not even Phil Gramm or Pat Buchanan is ever going to use this loaded idiom with its connotations of racism and genocide in connection with some "final solution" to our underclass problem. But they have little trouble finding nifty workarounds that impart the same attitude. Take George Will's nifty "re-stigmatization." Pregnant girls in the '50s were suitably stigmatized; shamed by their neighbors and perhaps beaten into miscarriage by their fathers. The "new re-stigmatizers" want to turn back the clock to those thrilling days of yesteryear by somehow reinvigorating a sense of shame and contempt that the sexual revolution of the '60s destroyed. And there are other, perhaps more practical steps: yanking mom's welfare benefits for a third child, forcing her to leave her children altogether to flip burgers for slave wages, jailing non-supporting dads -- all this, like a good beating, would show "tough love." Most importantly, if we can find enough ways to thrash these _untermenschen_ with sufficient noise and vigor, we can distract the public's attention from any reasoned assessment of the problem. Americans have repeatedly preferred almost any bumpersticker-sized distraction to some difficult, expensive, reasoned solution to a stubborn social question. Such solutions invariably involve liberal, New Testament rubbish like "do unto others" which makes complicated problems ... more complicated. Young, mostly white, teenaged girls are questing for some primal source of meaning in their otherwise barren existences. Pregnancy as some sort of primal romance promises to deliver. How many interviews have you seen where the young lady, wrestling with two or three illegitimate children, explains that she just wanted something of her own to love and love her back? She wanted this so badly that the hard truth that children are not "things" created for the fulfillment of mothers only struck home several pregnancies too late. Now. Shall we punish her for her misbegotten quest; smack her (and her kids)with some "tough love?" Or do we still possess at least some shred of New Testament rubbish? Quest for meaning is something all of us should understand. Rich or poor (perhaps especially rich), we're all on it: buying things, selling things, getting married, getting divorced. However, when it comes to questing, unlike the underclass, we have educations, jobs, family support, etc., a wider variety of tools to work with apart from our reproductive organs. Of course, providing a wider variety of "tools" to _untermenschen_ is precisely the sort of difficult, expensive, reasoned solution Americans hate. The Romans said, "Bed is the theater of the poor." Entertainment value alone will keep the underclass reproducing. Add to this the misguided "meaningfulness" of modern child-bearing for poor adolescent girls and the increased meaninglessness of child-fostering for jobless fathers. Is the punishment of children for the follies of these "parents" really a worthy response? Poor people feel worthless because, in the modern economy, they _are_ worthless. Their labor, with the touching exception of labor in childbirth, is meaningless. What possible punishment or stigma, old or new, can conceivably compete with that monstrous fact? We aren't going to whip these folks into shape by piling on with "tough love." The _untermenschen_ concept is operational, if unspoken, and our underclass, especially blacks, know this very well. The only hope is the provision of better tools for achieving meaning; the same sorts of tools so many Americans take for granted. All that distinguishes us from _untermenschen_ is the availability of tools. Lose them, just once, and you'll see personal and up close just how marginal that distinction is.