Stop the Presses

How to Succeed at the Dinner Table

November 5, 2014 by Murky Waters

People under the age of 30 may not believe this, but there was actually a time in the recent past when conservative talk radio did not exist. That's right. Up until the late 1980s you could have searched the radio dial from one end to the other and you wouldn't have heard a single indignant rant proclaiming that liberals had ruined America. But the overturning of the Fairness Doctrine, which limited the expression of one-sided political viewpoints in radio and television, changed all that in 1988. The misguided reversal opened the unholy gate through which the now-familiar pack of radio attack dogs charged forth intent on ripping the flesh from the bones of hippies, tree huggers, feminists, union leaders, tenured college professors, and other communist lowlifes who had hijacked the mind and soul of our once-great nation. Every day across the land the goons take to the airwaves to tell their mentally-challenged listeners what to think on every conceivable subject. Global warming? Hoax. Trayvon Martin? Thug. Social Security? Privatize it. Minimum Wage? Too high already. Regulations? Job killers. School shootings? Give more people guns. Obamacare? Socialism! Muslims? Terrorists!

Typically, when one of these dispensers of common sense finds himself out of breath and blue in the face after an hour-long tirade, he attempts to strike a slightly more positive tone. He waxes philosophical about how America is the land of opportunity, and how any determined, hard-working person can be successful here, and how people don't need any help from the government, because Uncle Sam just makes us weak and dependent whenever he tries to help us. There is no need for this liberal Robbing Hood mentality of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. The poor will only waste that money on beer and cigarettes. We need to look to our wealthiest citizens only as a source of inspiration to fuel our own personal fires of achievement. Instead of holding our hands out, we should follow the example of these diligent, noble visionaries who brought jobs and prosperity to the masses with their business ingenuity. We can be just like them! All seven billion of us! Just roll up your sleeves, get to work, and bootstrap yourself into the Fortune 500. So goes the omnipresent babble of the conservatalkers.

Yes, wealth is a virtue, according to right-wing conventional wisdom, and those who acquire large amounts of it are to be shamelessly worshipped. The conservative attitude toward lower-income Americans, however, is decidedly less forgiving. The less money a person has, the more he or she becomes the target of talk-radio hostility. The poor have been consistently portrayed by conservative radio as being lazy, stupid, dishonest, and inclined to criminal activity.

Talk show host Neal Boortz, one of the worst offenders in the right-wing propaganda war against the poor, infamously said the following about the people who were left stranded in New Orleans after the city was flooded by hurricane Katrina in 2005: "That wasn't [sic] the cries of the downtrodden. That's the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them."

I'm guessing it didn't matter to Boortz that, unlike the more affluent residents of New Orleans who were able to flee the city before the hurricane struck, many who stayed were too poor to leave at a moment's notice and live in a hotel or second home until the flood waters had subsided. Relocating to another city can be a challenge when you've only got $100 to your name. In that situation the prospect of leaving might seem worse than staying in a flooded city. But according to Neal's social Darwinist philosophy (known as survival of the richest), the Katrina victims were not worthy of assistance. No need to intervene, natural selection and the free markets would sort everything out.

Boortz, whose last name sounds like a loud release of bodily gases, reportedly had this to say about the concept of greed: "[Greed is] a word commonly used by liberals, low achievers, anti-capitalists and society's losers to denigrate, shame and discredit those who have acquired superior job skills and decision-making capabilities and who, through the application of those job skills, achieve success."

So there you have it. Anyone who criticizes a person for having too much money is a sore loser, according to Boortz. Let's think about his statement for a minute. He seems to be saying there is no such thing as greed, and that the term has no real meaning. There is no conceivable situation in which you could be taking too much at the expense of others. This Ayn Randian mode of thinking provides the tea party types with a convenient escape hatch when confronted with issues of social responsibility and civic duty.

Suppose, for example, that at the annual Thanksgiving get-together, Uncle John seizes the whole turkey at the beginning of dinner and sets it down in front of him on the table, claiming it as his own. The other 10 guests laugh at this gesture, but John says no, he's not kidding, the turkey belongs to him now (even though it was originally purchased by Grandma). Playing along, the relatives urge John to share the turkey with them. He says okay, out of the kindness of his heart he will cut off a leg for them to share amongst themselves. This provokes an even louder outburst of laughter that goes on for several minutes as the uncle removes the leg and places it on a plate. John, still unsmiling, says, "That's all you get, the rest is mine." Finally, an ominous silence descends on the gathering as it hits home with the attendees that something is not right with Uncle John. He really thinks the turkey is his and he's not going to share it with anybody. They also remember that he's one of those open-carry guys, so they might actually get shot if they try to take back the bird.

Uncle John may be rude, unrefined, and probably completely insane, but we know for a fact that he's not being greedy in this situation. Neal Boortz, that master of the intellect, has told us otherwise. John is simply using his superior turkey-acquiring abilities to maximize his protein intake, as is his right as a hungry American. Not only that, but according to Boortz's world view it doesn't matter if John is hungry or not, or if he only eats a little bit of the turkey and takes the rest home and throws it in the garbage can just to be a jerk. He deserves the whole thing, because he had the initiative to "acquire" it in the first place. The rest of the guests, because of their laziness and stupidity, deserve nothing, and they need to stop expecting turkey hand-outs from Uncle John.

So there is your holiday lesson in self-reliance. When you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year, show your relatives that can-do American spirit. Pile that plate three feet high with turkey, dressing, and everything else you like. Make sure you take as much as you can before anybody else can get to it. Then take three bites and throw the rest in the garbage. The other guests will be growling, along with their stomachs, but one day they will thank you for the valuable lesson you have given them on how to succeed at the dinner table.

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