Republicans and Civic Participation

Glenn Beck can be described as one of those angry Conservatives *by Liberals) – successful author, popular fan base, hour-long cable TV show 5 nights a week (CNN) and a several hour daily radio show. Sometimes Glenn provides evidence to support his views and kindly engages his guests, even those with whom he disagrees. Other times, he does not.

Tonight he ran a segment about the challenge of children’s diapers for cash strapped families. For one child, he stated, diapers can cost over $100 month. Enter the heroine Joanne Goldblum, founder of the New Haven Diaper Bank, a free diaper service. The segment, told from the view of the founder, discusses the evolution of the idea past its all-volunteer stage operated out of her home to the present paid staff and large warehouse.

First, let me commend Glenn for highlighting the reality of poverty and one small though meaningful solution. However, Glenn’s insistence before and after the segment that Ms. Goldblum didn’t rely on the government raises some thoughts. One criticism of Obama supporters mirrors this argument — that they are looking for civic responsibility on the cheap. By hoping and believing that the federal government will solve health care, education, and environmental problems, among others, such supporters (probably “elites”) wish to vote their values, not live their values. Community life is a hard task, especially for materialist movers and shakers and self-righteous critics of “the system”, both of which can of course describe the same person (hat tip to David Brooks and his Bourgeois Bohemian concept).

This argument is unfair to the many civicly engaged Liberals. And not just the ones who are engaged in advocacy for themselves, like unions, gay and lesbian rights, women for reproductive choice, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with asking the government for benefits and favorable laws for oneself. I‘m looking at you, Chamber of Commerce. The assumption that Conservative, small government supporters (at least dealing with social programs) all serve as paragons of active and responsible community members without undue discrimination or preference for deserving vs. undeserving, etc., goes against reality.  In any case, Beck’s misleading assertions are actually helpful to debate.  Why? Because the best retort from liberals from the charge from Conservatives that they want government to do all the work is to simply shut up and live a more generous life.

There’s another odd thing about Beck’s serious-minded intro and conclusion regarding the great citizens who do what government can’t or shouldn’t.  During the segment, Beck’s voice-over described the growth of the Diaper Bank.  Whom did the founder find as a partner? The dreaded government, in this case the Connecticut Office of Human Service. That fact was not analyzed.  Hmmm.

Lastly, a poverty-related program should not only be evaluated by the generosity of founder or the number of recipients but also 1) the dignity experienced by the recipients 2) the insight toward the causes of poverty through successful relationship with recipients.

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