Takedown Of The Day, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 4 2012 @ 11:51am

A reader writes:

I also read Leon Wieseltier's column and found it wanting, as it consists largely of unsubstantiated allegations. For example, he writes that Ryan "likes his capitalism cruel." Really? He thinks that Ryan derives pleasure from the suffering of others? How does he figure? Where is the evidence? In fact, Ryan – like most right-wingers – believes that implementation of his agenda would create much opportunity and alleviate suffering. Simply because he does not subscribe to Wieseltier's ideology does not make him cruel.

Earlier in the column Wieseltier asserts that "The ideal of self-reliance in America has always been attended by a corollary of indifference to others, of nastiness." His sum total of evidence? Quotes from Emerson and John Galt. But how to square this with the fact that right-wingers – who presumably are more likely to subscribe to the self-reliance ideal – contribute more towards charity than those on the left?

Where is the evidence for indifference? For nastiness? On a personal note, I – unlike Ryan – favor the elimination of the welfare state. But I've also volunteered to tutor inner-city children, contributed to charitable causes and have raised money for leukemia and lymphoma. Most people I know who support a paring back of government engage in similar efforts.

Another unsupported assertion from Wieseltier: "Many people do need help, and they are usually not responsible for the circumstances that have driven them to seek help. They suffer through no fault of their own." Really? Perhaps this is true, but it isn't obvious. In my mixed-income neighborhood there are plenty of poor people who presumably need help, but it isn't hard to imagine that their own poor decisions have played a big role in determining their situation. Are the unwed mothers not responsible for their own pregnancies? Are these people not responsible for their decision to waste money on tattoos and flashy clothing or consume unhealthy food (spare me the talk of food deserts, there are two grocery stores within a 20 minute walk plus a Target that sells fresh fruit). What about their responsibility to graduate from school?

Where I see legitimate examples of being a victim of circumstances, it's due to a government that fails to provide adequate schools that leave even eager students with sub-par knowledge, and a failure to provide security that leaves them vulnerable to crime. It in no way follows that the answer to the problems that face the poor and less fortunate is even more government, which struggles to adequately provide those services for which it is already tasked.

Ultimately, Wieseltier takes aim at a strawman. He leaves the impression that a desire to reduce the welfare state (and again, recall that this is not Ryan's stated goal, but rather to make it fiscally sustainable) is synonymous with wanton cruelty. He refuses to acknowledge that it is completely plausible to both oppose the welfare state while feeling a duty to assist the less fortunate among us. But to grant this possibility would be to legitimize the right-wing and leave open the path to an honest discussion, which Wieseltier plainly has zero interest in.

Recent discussion of Paul Ryan and private charity here and here.