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  • What Saturday Night Live, Welfare, and Harry Potter Have in Common

    If there’s one thing Saturday Night Live is good at in an election year, it’s lampooning politicians—whether it’s been Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford, Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton, or Dan Akroyd as Bob Dole. But last weekend, SNL offered up an unusually insightful bit of non-presidential social commentary—this time taking a swipe at America’s coddled, self-esteem-driven, success-less culture.

    You’d be better off watching the clip from the show (it’s much funnier than this summary), but in the interest of keeping it simple, a skit last week featured two talk show hosts interviewing 20-somethings about their special talents—a juggler who couldn’t juggle (but was “full of unearned confidence”), a “Twitter-famous” non-celebrity singer-songwriter whose confidence is through the roof because no one ever told him “how mediocre” he is, and a college grad with a passion for Chinese calligraphy and Irish dancing, played by “Harry Potter’s” Daniel Radcliffe. (“The world needs more singer-songwriters and fewer doctors and engineers!”) In the hosts’ words, “You can do anything!”

    In the midst of humor, SNL struck on a sad reality for much of American culture. Faux-celebrities are placed on pedestals, while real success is shot down. As we’re seeing in politics today, true measures of economic success—such as opening a business and making a profit—have become something of a scarlet letter rather than a badge of honor. Capitalism and the free market are under assault, politicians are fomenting class warfare, and a target has been drawn squarely on our country’s job creators. Last year, for example, President Obama made a call for “fairness” and higher taxes on the wealthy—implying that making “too much” money is patently unfair. And that’s despite the fact that the top 10 percent of income earners pay 70 percent of income taxes and the bottom 50 percent of income earners paying only 3 percent of income taxes.

    While the left tears down the haves, the have-nots are subsisting on government assistance, continuing on in a state of dependence yet not being encouraged to improve their lot in life. Take a look at the facts:

    Welfare spending is projected to cost taxpayers $10.3 trillion over the next 10 years, more than 40 million people are on food stamps, and 70 different means-tested anti-poverty programs provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income persons. But as The Heritage Foundation’s Katherine Bradley and Robert Rector explain, while those programs provide much-needed aid to America’s poor, they don’t do anything to help the recipients get back on their feet and move off of government assistance. Though it’s not exactly a celebration of mediocrity, it’s an acceptance of how things are rather than an effort to help make people’s lives better in the long run. In other words, it’s a handout, not a hand up.

    Want another example of tacitly accepting failure as the norm? Take America’s education system. Today, $13,000 per child is spent in public schools. Since the 1960s, that level of spending has nearly tripled, after adjusting for inflation, and it has doubled since the 1970s. Yet despite all that spending, our students’ test scores have remained totally stagnant, with poor and minority students bearing the brunt of the inept education system. Ironically, while U.S. students fall far behind their international competitors in subjects like math, science, and reading, they are at the top of the charts in one area: confidence. What’s being done about it? Instead of real reforms that have delivered proven results—such as school choice—the left insists on throwing more money at a failed system. Once again, failure is being accepted while success is being rejected.

    The punchline in SNL’s skit is that the “You Can Do Anything!” show is “the only show that celebrates the incredibly high self-esteem of the YouTube generation!” Sadly, the fictional show isn’t the only thing that celebrates mediocrity in America. Our country can do better, and the American people should expect more out of Washington—and out of themselves.

    Posted in Featured, Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to What Saturday Night Live, Welfare, and Harry Potter Have in Common

    1. Tom says:

      Sarah Palin made a similar comment about the lousy singers who try out for "American Idol." Like with "death panels," Cuda was ahead of her time.

    2. patrickmspeaks says:

      The best comedy holds up a mirror to our culture and gets us laughing by showing us our fallacies. In this respect, purveyors of comedy are, in this sense, instinctive social scientists, as they see the flaws of humanity as though they have studied long.

      Which means the only real difference between social scientists and comedians is that the comedians want you to laugh at them. And I'm not a social scientist.

    3. KellyV says:

      I agree that our culture has taken a dramatic and unfortunate turn into the territory of political correctness and everybody's-a-winner and all that rot. I'm certainly not raising my kids that way (or sending them to public school, for that matter).

      However, the rest of this post is the usual "someone please think of the poor job creators!" nonsense. Yes, the top 10% are paying 70% of personal income taxes. They're also earning almost 50% of income, with the top 5% alone earning 32% of all income. Once you factor in other taxes and fees, the effective tax rate on the bottom 50% easily exceeds that of the top 5% since much of their income is from capital gains. And most of those people are not job creators at all; the vast majority make money by gambling with other people's money, not by creating new products, fulfilling consumer demand, opening new markets, or any of the traditional avenues of entrepeneurship.

      Meanwhile, yes, we have a significant number of people (especially in the past 4 years or so, since Wall Street tanked the economy) subsisting on government aid. I know the conservative pundits like to paint those millions with the broad brush of lazy loafers because that's easy to do and removes any need to feel sympathetic towards the less fortunate. I would suggest that most (certainly not all) of those on welfare would prefer to be productive members of society, earning their own way and striving to achieve more. But it's not easy to do so when jobs aren't readily available, when entry-level jobs don't even provide a level of income above the poverty line, and when health care and education are becoming more and more expensive. I know the phrase "redistribution of wealth" is anathema in these parts, but honestly, is there any reason why one of every three dollars earned in this country should go to the top 5% of wage earners? Note that I am not saying government intervention is the answer, nor am I suggesting that the wealthy shouldn't stay wealthy–but there is an inherent injustice in our current system which has directed almost ALL economic growth over the past 30 years to the very top tier of earners, and that is not the bargain that made America a great nation with a robust middle class as the engine of the economy.

      And just to head off the inevitable personal attacks, no, I am not envious of the wealthy. I have no desire to join their ranks–all I want is the chance to work for my living at a wage that allows me to provide a comfortable life for myself and my family, with a good work-leisure balance, health care when we need it, retirement savings, and a social safety net if the bottom truly drops out. Is that too much to ask in the wealthiest nation in the world?

      • Bobbie says:

        Yes it is too much to ask of government what you can do for yourself, Kelly. The government didn't make this country the wealthiest nation in the world! People just like you did. Now people you have become want to ask too much of it when you can do it like anyone else. You put so much thought into what people in the private sector make in salaries that doesn't cost you a dime! Why aren't you more thoughtful to the expense of government that helps themselves to your wages without your consent at irrational pay without accountabilities and no productivity! What's the benefit of them to us?? maybe work to earn a higher paying job you write about before government swoops it up less the quality, more the expense! why do you trust government when they've been bailing out and favoring unconstitutional policies for some of the 1% of the wealthiest you aren't envious of?

      • ATB2 says:

        Is it too much to ask that you EARN your ideal standard of living? Is it a personal attack to point out that your argument is confused? You ask is there any reason that "one of every three dollars earned in this country should go to the top 5% of wage earners" – just one: they EARNED it. Create value Kelly, and you too can earn a reasonable standard of living. Showing off your empathy is not productive or interesting.

    4. Rodney Honeycutt says:

      Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can feed himself and his family for a lifetime.

    5. Pete Houston says:

      I used to work in a shipyard in Boston and everyday would have to walk past the bums sleeping in the street on my way to the subway with a few of my friends. The bums would clap for us on our way to work so that they could get their checks as a way of thanks(or making fun of us because we were working hard everyday vs sitting in the park drinking alcohol). I don't buy the crap that the majority of the people on welfare would prefer to work vs what they are doing. I have lived in Detroit, Boston, San Diego, New York, and now Houston. The story is the same where ever you go in this country. As long as we are allowing people to sit on their butt, they will. When they get hungry they will figure it out. Obviously, I am willing to move to keep working the last 30 years. Makes me angry to hear that nobody can find a job where they live. Get on the bus and move to where the jobs are. I doubt the street bums are reading the Heritage posts but maybe some of the nuts that believe that we should be supporting them are.

    6. Janice says:

      I've watched SNL for over 20 years and appreciate the humor in politics and society they give. I've never been offended by any of their skits. As humans, our brains and thoughts are covered by our skulls, therefore not allowing others to know what we really think. If we could only be honest instead of being politically correct we could improve society by raising the bar instead of concern with hurting someone's feelings. Sometimes honesty hurts, but it's the only way to see things as they really are.

    7. douglasernstylp says:

      "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Great post, Mike.

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