Alternet, San Francisco, CA, (ran NY-Metroland), June 22, 1994:
         
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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.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.