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Who's to blame

Jonathan Swift, David Nokes’s excellent biography points out, held what has long been the established view of the comfortably off about the poor: “He is determined to identify financial distress with moral culpability and to see poverty as the out ward and visible sign of sinfulness.”

In a sermon on poverty, he preached: “Among the number of those who beg in our streets, or are half starved at home, or languish in prison for debt, there is hardly one in a hundred who doth not owe his misfortunes to his own laziness or drunkenness or worse vices.”

Mind you, he gave to charities, but the attitude lives on, finding an echo vulgarly expressed in Herman Cain’s recent pronouncement, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

(I am not necessarily out to thump Republicans, despite their risible belief that the president and the Democratic Party are a bunch of Bolsheviki. Rather, I’d prefer you to notice that Democratic officeholders are pretty much as beholden to corporate interests as their colleagues across the aisle. If there is a distinction, it is a subtle one: Democrats are willing to let the Interests steal everything but a hot stove; Republicans are willing to let the stove go.)

During the year, 2009-2010, that I spent enumerating the people who had no interest in employing me—and there were a lot of them—I did blame myself. For pursuing a career in editing, which nearly everyone needs but for which almost no one is willing to pay. For not foreseeing in 1980 that the newspaper industry would collapse thirty years later. For not jumping from newspapering into something else—and what? Banking? Real estate? Bah.

Unemployment demoralizes: the anxiety about money, the urgency of finding another position before all resources are exhausted, the dread of illness or some other reversal that will mean utter collapse, the contempt directed your way by public figures like Herman Cain. Add to that the strain of making a good face of it for your acquaintances, your family, yourself. Underlying it all a rueful acceptance of how much you have contributed to your plight by not being more frugal, more provident, more cautious.

And when something Micawber-wise does turn up, and is accepted, it bears with it the realization that what has happened once can happen again. At any time.

Then too there’s the anger. In my case, at the corporate nonentities throughout the newspaper business whose fecklessness brought the industry down. More broadly, the sort of thing now fueling the Occupy movement, at the financial wizards whose lack of understanding of the instruments they were wielding created a bubble and burst it. At the public officials who connived at the bubble. That’s bipartisan. It was the Clinton administration that went along with repealing Glass Steagall so that the bankers could have a romp with other people’s money, and it was the succeeding Bush administration that let them have their way because it appointed regulators who did not believe in regulation.

And today we are stuck with a polarized, dysfunctional Congress that lurches from one inadequate short-term fix to another, waiting to see whether an election eleven months hence will put into office a crowd different enough to spend a few moments working for the common good while jockeying for power.

At least I do have a job again—and an audience, bless you all, dear hearts—even though my best long-term strategy is to pitch forward gently onto the keyboard some day at the paragraph factory.

And the Republic, grubby little oligarchy that it has become, will survive.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:53 PM | | Comments (7)


Very proud to be part of the audience. :)

When people ask me the difference between Democrats and Republicans, I tell them that a Republican will put his hand in your pocket and take everything; a Democrat will leave enough for a cheap cup of coffee.

I quadruple-like this post.

You have nailed it, succintly and poignantly.

A typo, surely, unless you mean to bless al?

A typo, surely.

"Dear heart"--one of the nicest things I have been called lately.

Blessings of the season, Prof. McI.

Smart, tight post. Full coverage with a fair hearing. It's all there. Solid work.

Thank you. It is good to be a member of this audience. I too spend a lot of mental energy and ink and e-ink trying to find the decisive balance between pointless obsession and just the proper use of grammatical rules.

To the rest of you in the audience, Season's Greetings, and to you, Prof. M., Merry Christmas.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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