Dear Margaret Wente: you have annoyed me for years, you of the lofty perch at The Globe and Mail who once famously described Newfoundland and Labrador as a welfare ghetto. (Funny how things look now, with Ontario a have-not province, and this province venturing onto the “have” side of the ledger.)
Truth be told, you got under my skin for years before that, with columns that included one where you said, essentially, that you wouldn’t be giving up your big, shiny SUV because of any old global warming piffle, whether the concerns were true or false, (I remember you saying you had a right to drive whatever you wanted), and more recently, ones that suggested things like the lumpen proletariat should be out learning trades instead of taking liberal arts courses at universities. (Taken together, they sound a lot like, “You should know your place: up here, I certainly know both your place and mine.”)
There was your recent facile dismissal of Occupy protesters as simply being a bunch of people who wanted something for nothing (complete with a total lack of actually speaking to any of them, or, probably without ever leaving your desk), and your chip-shots at university professors — why on Earth should they continue to have the pension benefits they fought for and won? Golly, this world will all be so much better when none of us can count on a pension beyond the vagaries of whatever the market happens to be doing when you have to cash in your working-class pittance of retirement savings — if there is any — for food.
Your latest, however, is a marvel of why the world is such a divided place. It appeared on Saturday, under the headline “The poor are doing better than you think.”
The poor, it seems, have colour televisions. They also, except in some pockets, don’t have serious malnutrition, even if they can’t buy healthy food, and diabetes and obesity are soaring. Compared to the time of Dickens, the poor are doing just fine, thank you — at least, that’s the way things are in Wente-World.
It is, of course, music to the ears of that very class known as the one per cent.
And you, Ms. Wente, are either their mouthpiece or their pet.
Because you miss the point entirely, or deliberately misconstrue it.
What’s happening more and more is that, at the top end of the scale, the rich are catapulting ahead. Things may be marginally better for those at the very bottom of the pool (although that’s a bit like saying “People who die because they can’t get heart surgery are much better off than those, hoo boy, who died much younger when the Black Plague was around”), but the real problem is that the rich are going forward — average income at the top end of the scale is rising — while real take-home incomes for the people who build and make things is going downwards. Yes, there are colour televisions and even computers — and more consumer debt than ever, and a market system that cringes before the altar of consumer confidence (more spending and more credit) above all else.
You might ask why it is someone who speculates on markets moves forward faster than someone who actually builds houses or plows fields. You didn’t.
The one clear mistake in your column? Suggesting that the people the column was written for actually spend any time thinking about the poor.
This week, an online commenter suggested your column should have been headlined “Let them eat cake.”
Apt words — and there were plenty more.
Me? I just shake my head and wonder if your job is not merely to echo the sentiments of whatever echelon your newspaper believes it represents.
Perhaps your work is both fin de siecle and sinecure for those who like their creature comforts and want to be reassured about their right to continue to enjoy them.
Noted Irish journalist Peter Finley Dunne suggested a newspaper’s job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Your role, it seems, is more to comfort the comfortable, while afflicting the afflicted.
If the poor are really doing so well, Ms. Wente, why not join them in their special luxury for a year or two? A caveat — you’ll have to leave your SUV at home.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.