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Friday, June 12, 2015

'WELL-FARING": Some Principles of a New Political-Social Continuum

In my last Post, we took a brief look at a continuum or spectrum of social action that might be a more revealing measure of political and social commitment and ideology than the popular ideology spectrum of the Left and the Right. That Post ended with something of a promise to explore some of the "principles" that might be behind such a new continuum. What follows is an attempt to at least partially address that promise.

1)   A while back, I pointed to the importance of research in the Shriver Report, and how it looked into 'real needs,' not needs that are fabricated to serve a political purpose only.

The Report was based on the analysis of those real needs existing in many communities. Secondly, there was time taken to hear from single women, as well as to interview many who were personally experiencing poverty or near poverty. Their personal stories often confirmed and enhanced the statistical data, but made their needs much more real and palpable. The biggest surprise was that the old stereotypes of "welfare queens" too "lazy" to work, and their "irresponsibility" went out the window as many of the women interviewed were not only confident about their futures but anxious to make their lives more meaningful and fulfilling. 

So one must be careful about defining needs, as they are not always what they seem. But, there are some common threads, and one of those threads appears to be "necessity." Need or necessity implies "a want, a lack, or a demand which must be filled." Necessity is a much stronger word in that it expresses some sort of urgency or imperative about the circumstance, the exigency, the time, the situation or condition involved. And that necessity is often found by certain conservative right-wing politicians in situations that have a moral condition as the measure of necessity. Abortion is a crisis because we are "killing babies." Terrorism is a moral question because radical Islamists have "no regard for innocent lives." Government, especially central government, is seen as "evil" because it tends, they say, to oppress the rights, freedoms and property of people. Deficits and debts in government budgets are seen as "demoralizing" and irresponsible. It goes on and on.

Strange then, don't you think, that the greatest ethical command of them all seems to get short shrift from those same moralists: "love your neighbor as yourself" or "do unto others as you would want them to do unto you." Oh, and don't forget that phrase at Judgment Day "inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, who are my brethren, you did the same unto me." The obvious, but often over-looked, thread in need or necessity is people! People in need, people under duress, people with challenges, people living under conditions that have an urgency to them. It is why people's needs stand out in this continuum. There is an urgency - a necessity - to research those needs, to understand the problems that underlie those needs, and to come up with viable solutions to meet those needs so that the greatest number caught in those problems and those difficulties can be offered opportunities to get beyond them, to break out of chains that bind them and to find something in their lives that was before unattainable.

So let us first, above all, look for the real needs of people, not the needs made up by politicians who use them as "moral issues" to get elected. We don't need any more of that kind of non-representative government. Let "social needs" be defined by collecting scientific and personal data. What we need are office-seekers who want to be servants of the people; who want to solve the real problems and meet the real needs of the people they represent. The best way to find out what those problems and needs are is to ask!

All legislation should be required to reflect not just the constitutional basis for its wording, but should also specifically reflect the research done and the data gathered, as well as the opinions, stories, expressed needs and hopes of one's constituency in one's district or state. After all, these same lawmakers have proposed stringent research by those who apply for grants to help resolve problems in our society. If grant applicants have to prove their case in this way, why not require legislators to do the same?

Let me give you a few examples of federal grant requirements and guidelines that are included in a 60+ page guide:
  • a statement of need in which one must describe and cite data for labor market issues and the need for expanded use of alternative preparation of workers for careers in H-1B industries and occupations
  • provide evidence of skill gaps in the workforce and the training available to address these skill gaps
  • provide an inventory of innovations and training needed to develop and bring to scale the programs
  • cite evidence that demonstrates that the selected industries and/or occupations are ones for which employers currently seek H-1B visas
  • cite evidence of middle-skill jobs by identifying average wages offered
  • provide demographic data that assesses the potential participation of underrepresented groups in your Project
  • describe the overall goals as well as outcomes and outputs the project will achieve
  • outcomes and outputs must be an outgrowth of the strategic approach described; a quarterly report will be required of all grantees to demonstrate progress on key metrics as well as a description of activities and successes achieved
  • must provide a table and narrative that clearly identifies the overall goals, milestones, outputs, and outcomes that result from the project
What we desperately need is a similar guide book of requirements for writing legislation and for establishing evidence and proof for claimed purposes, outcomes and results for such legislation. It's far past time for "rules of the road" to apply equally to members of legislatures as they do to grant applicants. Perhaps we should require as a qualification for political office that candidates must demonstrate an ability to do research, to solve problems, to use modern technology and to define outcomes. It's just a thought...!

2) What is a "favorable outcome" in terms of this spectrum?

An 'outcome' is defined as "something that results from something; the consequence or issue."
'Favorable" is defined as: "something that affords aid, inclined to aid or improve; promising well-being or granting what is desired."

We could say that a favorable outcome is therefore something that produces a result that is inclined to aid someone or improve a situation; something that holds out the promise of well-being. I venture to say that this is surely what we want legislators to aim toward, for institutions and organizations to have as part of their mission, and for capitalists to attempt to achieve as they conduct business.

So often we ignore outcomes, particularly how to effect favorable results. But on a continuum concerned with favorable outcomes as the test of where one falls on that spectrum, it is imperative to place a much greater emphasis on this in whatever planning, legislating, aiding, or service of others we might engage.

 Does it strike you as it does me that too much legislation is written simply to meet a need for favored position or status as an outcome for the co-sponsors? Does it also strike you that some so-called service organizations spend much of their time fund-raising or socializing or serving a small population with little in the way of promise for a better life, providing instead mere temporary relief from exigencies of life for the persons they serve? I think we too often in human endeavor fail to think much about how to bring promise of well-being, hope for the future and opportunity for a better life. We get so involved in doing what has always been done, or accomplishing what others say we should, or pursuing programs instead of thinking of what can be done to bring a promise of something that makes recipients feel and say: "I never knew life could actually be different and full of promise!"

I think this may be one key to re-evaluating programs for those who have special needs or challenges. Let us not destroy social need programs as the Right-wingers want to do; but let us revive and reform and re-structure them to bring about favorable outcomes for people, with new opportunities and new promise for future well-being. Let us, to whatever extent we are able, build-in the outcomes we expect from the beginning. Let us not be shy or reluctant to propose favorable outcomes for people who need them.

Like "Obamacare." The Affordable Care Act has done just that. Perhaps that is why this is a milestone piece of legislation; precisely because it was backed by demographic and physical data and metrics; because it addressed real needs, not some made-up issues; because the desired results and outcomes were clearly defined and supported by activities and reforms that could lead to desirable outcomes for uninsured and under-insured citizens. It has done precisely what it was meant to do: provide affordable health care for a substantial number of our citizens (now over 12 million enrollees); reduce the precipitous rise in premium costs; establish new guidelines for insurance policies that wiped away certain prominent abuses of that system; provide consumer protections and on-going watch-dog efforts to assure that necessary reforms take place as needed; to reform and innovate ways to deliver services; and to strengthen Medicaid and Medicare coverage.

Republicans of all stripes want to repeal the Act. They have no data to support such a move; they have no proof that the ACA is failing -- in fact all the metrics indicate otherwise. They have no alternatives for providing better policies or health care. They have postured and prevaricated and become bombastic in their buffoonery. They claim socialism is taking over and that the health care system has been nationalized, even while their cronies in the health care industry continue to be the insurance carriers and the health care providers, growing richer every day. They are the biggest and most vocal bamboozlers on the planet today, and voters who buy in to their rhetoric will have only themselves to blame for the devastating consequences that continue to proliferate and that will explode if they keep voting for any of their ilk.

Republicans (and some so-called Democrats) have managed in the last seven years to block and/or destroy so many opportunities and favorable outcomes for the citizens of this country that it is a wonder the income gap is not larger than it is; or that the infrastructure does not completely collapse; or that the environment does not devour us whole as it moans and groans under climate changeable man-made pollution and destruction. The nay-sayers and provocateurs have attacked children (reduced social programs like Head Start and Food Stamps); attacked women (no equality in the workforce, no family leave; greater invasion of privacy and the relationship of women to their doctors); attack Seniors (raise age limit on Social Security; restrict Medicare provisions; devolve Medicaid to the states); attack Labor (attack bargaining rights; keep minimum wage at under-poverty level; devastate pensions; raise hours from 35 to 40 in order to qualify for health coverage by employer); attack Minorities (restrict and leave untouched a comprehensive immigration policy; militarize the police; stop and frisk; shoot any person of color you damn please without fear of reprisal; Supreme Court majority rulings favoring watering down of protections like search & seizure or the Castle doctrine or the need for a warrant to enter anyone's private space); attack Students (reduced Pell grants; refused to lower interest rates on student loans; want to privatize public education and block free education beyond high school).

How long can we continue to opt for ignorance, prejudice, political gamesmanship and volatile rhetoric as substitutes for intelligence, public service, and an ability to collect, analyze and make viable use of actual data and constituent opinions in order to produce favorable outcomes for all the citizens of this country? We must actually turn out a majority of voters from most of the attacked cohorts above in order to defeat the plurality now controlling election turn-out and election victories.

3) That old word "welfare" has been getting in the way of meaningful outcomes for a long time.

In fact, “welfare” has become, under the destructive rhetoric of the Right-wing, a dirty word, which was their intent all along. Richard Nixon began the attack and Ronald Reagan enshrined it for all time in the symbolism of a "welfare queen." And so, we have measured the "General Welfare" of our people, called for in the Preamble to our Constitution, by terms and definitions that do nothing but belie the true nature of "welfare." By making welfare equivalent to a handout to "undeserving" individuals, the right-wingers have devastated the true meaning of the Constitution, the true meaning of our Pledge to provide "liberty and justice for all," and the true meaning of the solemn oath to maintain a government that is "for the People."

Let us look again at the origins and definitions of that word to determine if something has been hidden or undermined by all their horrific rhetoric. The dictionary begins our quest for some sanity: welfare is "the state of faring well; well-being. It has moreover to do with the "physical or moral welfare of society." Right there is what I was talking about -- the hidden and buried truth of "welfare." It has to do with the moral welfare of our society, which means that the Republican conservatives have been missing their chance all along. They have found morality in everything else, but missed it in mounting their rhetorical attacks upon "welfare." So here is the other side, in my own words, writ large:

The General Welfare is not found primarily in so-called 'give-away programs' for the poor or under-privileged individuals of our society. The General Welfare is a moral obligation we have as a society to bring relief, hope, opportunity and promise of well-being to all those populations with special needs or circumstances. The measure of welfare is not the character of the individual who receives it, it is rather the moral character of the individual givers, institutions and governments that is at stake, for the moral welfare of our society is seriously at risk if we ignore the needs, aspirations and challenges of vulnerable populations.

This is what the neo-cons have always missed about welfare: that it has more to do with the well-being of society - the Givers - than it does with the character of individual recipients. The General Welfare of our democracy and our economic system is dependent upon our response to those in need.

Look again at the word "welfare." It is made up of two words: 'well' and 'fare.' "Fare" has to do with basics like food and travel. It also has to do with experiencing "good or bad fortune or treatment." The archaic origin suggests travel - "to go" or how one "gets on" in life. So 'well fare' is something like 'fare well' - a hope for faring well in this life. And so, we come round to a word we don't use that often, but one that was quite familiar to our Founding Fathers. The word is "Commonweal." It basically means the whole nation or the whole body politic. But there is another meaning, somewhat more obsolete, but certainly apropos to our discussion. It meant the 'common welfare;' the 'public good.'

All those negative terms that Republican neo-cons and some conservative Democrats have thrown at us for so long, take on a certain ignorance in the face of the meaning of the real words behind the General Welfare of the People, which is one major purpose of government and indeed for a democratic society in all its forms. We must not be engaged simply in 'temporary-relief' programs, or the construction of a 'safety net,' or the momentary rescue of some people from great distress. We are involved in a moral obligation and ethical movement to promote the public good; the common welfare, so that all society may fare well. Again, oft-derided “Obamacare” has done just exactly that.

Our obligation as citizens is not primarily to determine who is Left and Right and who is in the broad Center of a political system, particularly if one is not a political office-seeker or office-holder. Our obligation is to seek the public good, favorable and promising outcomes for all our people, and the well fare of our most vulnerable citizens. And so we ought to judge ourselves and our politicians and our private sector business leaders, not by a political spectrum, but by a continuum of public service and action; a continuum that measures our democratic and moral obligation to promote the faring well of all our citizens but particularly those who have fewer opportunities, who are held back by physical, emotional and mental challenges, who find themselves homeless or hungry or in poor health. We must step away from the rhetoric of the hate-mongers on the Right (and the Left) and step up to the role of champions and zealots and activists of favorable outcomes promising well-faring for all our people, especially for those who need an effective means of support and opportunity to "get-on" well.

Well-faring is our moral obligation.  Fare well!