Monday, December 24, 2007

What would Jesus say?

Ronald Reagan's Cadillac welfare queen seems be part of the ur-unconscious of the right-wing mind. (Would it be unfair to call it the conservative racial memory? Perhaps.) She lives there in the psychic shadows, constantly ready to be rediscovered and to emerge on demand, in the hour of conservative need.

And so it came to pass, only recently, as I understand it, that Sharon Jasper, a resident in public housing in New Orleans, complained about missing window screens, a leaking sink, and high deposit charges and utility bills in her subsidized housing. This got the attention of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, such that they sent one of their photographers to look at her apartment. Given that a leaky sink will not put any news photographer in the running for a photojournalism Pulitzer, the photographer opted for a picture of her very large TV set instead.

Now, this TV set has excited a good deal of outrage in the conservative blogs, like Ross Douthat's, for example. And I myself saw the picture. The flat screen TV appeared quite large, though the wide-angle lens used exaggerated this somewhat.

But no matter. It was definitely a big television set.

The Lee Atwater-esque encoded message here (which right wingers with instinctive wisdom never feel the need to spell out and make potentially falsifiable) is that the overburdened taxpayer has paid for this TV set, or, if not and if the money was Ms Jasper's very own, then it should have been used for several months rent for non-subsidized housing. Absent such assumptions, indeed, why else would there be the outrage?

Well, let's assume for the moment that the Atwater-Rove message is true, just for the heck of it.

The important question to ask, then, in terms of the holiday tradition being celebrated even as I write (by all except secular enemies of Christmas and maybe a few Jews and Muslims and Buddhists), is "so what?"

I suspect Ross Douthat either belongs to, or in any case and for whatever reason psychically identifies with, an income bracket that has received an inordinate Republican tax break at the expense of the rest of us, not to mention at the expense of our children and grandchildren, and as such is either himself a greater burden to his fellow men than Ms Jasper, or admires men who are. Not to put too fine a point on it, Warren Buffet, second richest man in America, is in a much lower tax bracket than his secretary, who pays twice the percentage of her income to support George Bush's war than Warren Buffet does. Mr. Buffet was honorable enough to express outrage about this, but I doubt if any conservative bloggers have. I could be wrong, of course. I haven't read Ross Douthat's archives to find out about him.

But I digress. Getting back to the TV welfare queen, and to introduce a little perspective here, this being Christmas Eve, I went to the Good Book to say what Jesus might say about the matter. Assuming that, say, adultery might be considered even worse in conservative circles than ownership of a large TV set, Jesus' words to a mob agitated by a serious transgression against a conservative moral code might be instructive and apposite. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

In fact Jesus seems like the kind of guy who would get more offended about wide-screen TVs in the houses of the rich than in the houses of the poor. Specifically, " is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24

That's a pretty hard message for a conservative to hear, but they seem to have been diligently at work all these many centuries not hearing it.

And there's this: "Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you" again from Matthew. This would seem to prohibit those among the right wing who are actually Christians from being real soreheads about Ms. Jasper's subsidized housing.

In the spirit of the Season, I have to say that my overall impression is that Jesus was far more forgiving of the sinners than of those who obsess and rend their garments about the sin.