Taking potshots at the poor

Russell Wangersky
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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.

The mouthpiece

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 rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • david dickinson
    January 05, 2012 - 17:34

    My 22-year-old daughter makes $10 an hour and has to pay $850 per month for a basement suite the size of a walk-in closet in Vancouver. No drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. (How could she afford them?) She barely has enough money to eat after she pays her slumlord 80% of her pay cheque. Yes, the poor are doing very well if you data-mine facts and figures and ignore the case studies of real people. The reality is that the wealthy are doing extraordinarily well off the backs of the poor.

  • Gary
    December 17, 2011 - 13:44

    Great article! Margaret Wente is an obnoxious dinosaur.

  • Anon
    December 16, 2011 - 00:33

    Best article I've seen in this paper in a long time.

  • Geraldine Ryan
    December 15, 2011 - 08:39

    Egad, she's at it again. Well said, Russell. But then again, did she ever go away? I wouldn't know , since I rarely read the G&M. I do remember with great clarity the scathing article I wrote for the Opinion piece of The Telegram folowing her "welfare ghetto" snipes, and which generated (my piece I mean), a glaring, bold-typed cartoon daring anyone upalong and elsewhere to insult us in such a manner. I've grown a little mellow since then, and am, not quite such a reactionary, but I'm darn glad I was back then. She needed it, and apparenly, still does!

  • Petertwo
    December 15, 2011 - 05:03

    Right on Russell. Those elitists are exactly what the "Occupy Movements" were all about. Pushing other people down while elevating themselves, in their minds, as some sort of superior beings. Their place is often only another accident of birth. Like "the poor", though I have found the poor, in general, rich in Christian spirit by a long way.

  • Chris Warrick - Sydney, Australia
    December 15, 2011 - 00:49

    Russell What a piece de resistance! Thanks to the wonders of proletarian social networks (thanks, Mary Lewis :) ), your piece has reached me some 12,000 miles away. I have spent much of the last year telling anyone who would listen how proud every single Newfoundlander I met, when I came back last Christmas, was that we were "venturing onto the 'have' side of the ledger." I doubt Ms Wente even appreciates that there IS a ledger - unless it is one for some poor lumpen proletarian (Sp? - Ed.?) Cratchitt perched on a ricketty stool to extol the virtues of conscience-free commerce on behalf of his misguided master(s). Well said, Russell - A la prochaine...! Chris

  • Marg Wente - You are disgraceful in what you write
    December 14, 2011 - 18:07

    PIERRE NEARY wrote: "People like Ms. Wente are the reason why the Occupy movement started". Yes indeed Mr. Neary, you are correct. I do hope it doesn't fizzle out until its raison d'etre is acheived. The National Medium that Marg Wente works for is amongst the Media lurers, that lured Newfoundland and Labrador's raw natural resources out of the province for the benefit of creating economies in Central Canada through their low grade transparency reporting. If the National Media were moral and upstanding the economic inequality that exists in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would not exist today. I can remember columnist after columnist of the Canadian Media publishing columns supporting the exporting out of Newfoundland and Labrador's developed natural resources to create economies in Central Canada. Not one of their journalist had an opposing opinion to remind the province to be careful, sincethe way its natural resources were being lured away was going to cause a very anemic economy at home. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the National Media were very bias towards creating a healthy Canadian Center and to hell with a province like Newfoundland and Labrador. They not only lured our resources away they maligned us so badly that we lost our self-esteem, all the while they were enjoying the fruits of our resources. What an devilish bunch!

  • Herb Morrison
    December 14, 2011 - 17:21

    If Ms. Wente had made mention of the millions of people living in famine-stricken countries out of a sense of concern for there well- being, that would be something to be admired. However, such is not the case. Deprivation of any kind is unacceptable, especially if you live in a country where the gap between rich and poor is widening despite the material wealth of our country in general and our Province in particular. By alluding to those people who are living in famine-ravaged countries in Africa it would seem that Ms. Wente is merely trying to say to impoverished people living in Canada that we should “suck up” the pain we are feeling because others are worse off. When you are barely able to make ends meet, when you can’t fond a job, when you would go hungry were it not for the existence of food banks having a colour T.V. in the living room or a Cadillac in the driveway is not a substitute for the lack of human dignity and self-esteem which so often accompanies deprivation in our society

  • Kerry Paul
    December 14, 2011 - 16:35

    Obviously we can't have disenting opinions on the current thinking. Ms Wendt should be muzzled so nobody has to consider the other side of any argument. It might provoke thoughtful conversation. Also find it ironic that a comment about Ontario no longer being a "have" province brings out articles abouts wrestling baxck some of the wealth NFLD is currently enjoying. Taking care of less fortunate obviously only applies in one on one situations - not millions who are having difficulties.

  • Kerry Paul
    December 14, 2011 - 16:11

    Obviously we can't have disenting opinions on the current thinking. Ms Wendt should be muzzled so nobody has to consider the other side of any argument. It might provoke thoughtful conversation. Also find it ironic that a comment about Ontario no longer being a "have" province brings out articles abouts wrestling baxck some of the wealth NFLD is currently enjoying. Taking care of less fortunate obviously only applies in one on one situations - not millions who are having difficulties.

    • rt
      December 14, 2011 - 18:13


  • Anne
    December 14, 2011 - 14:54

    Way to go Russell

  • rugbymom
    December 14, 2011 - 13:54

    I haven't so much as picked up a copy of the G&M since Wente's comment about Newfoundland and Labrador being a "welfare ghetto". Clearing a brilliant move on my part.

  • Terri
    December 14, 2011 - 12:23

    Well said!

  • D. Maria Paul
    December 14, 2011 - 09:09

    Ms. Wente has an image to uphold, that IS the Globe & Mail. It caters to a certain class of humans; the ones that are out of touch with reality.

  • Ruby Hann
    December 14, 2011 - 09:05

    Wow Russell powerful and oh so true words were never spoken before. Maybe the people of * Gods country* Newfoundland should stop buying theGlobe And Mail. Instead we should just bigot it from even coming into our fair province.

    December 14, 2011 - 08:18

    Wente lives in a dream world, not sure what she smokes but it sure distorts reality. I deal with the poor daily through my job and through food banks, and believe me they are not doing all that great. I see an increase in food bank use now monthly, and we screen to make sure they are needy. Just because they have a creature comfort like a colour TV doesn't make them well off, who said they even bought it new? Who says it wasn't given? I have personally given colour TV's to some folks who didn't have one for the children, that doesn't make them well off. Most of the poor are worse off now than ever, it saddens me when I hear some trying to decide between food, heat or medications. Great article Brian.

  • Sam
    December 14, 2011 - 07:38

    Thank you, Mr. Wangersky, for putting that horrible self-righteous woman in her place.

  • Donna Angel
    December 14, 2011 - 06:53

    I assume Ms. Wente was not born in a manger.

  • Wayne O.
    December 13, 2011 - 20:04

    I have not bought or read a copy of the Globe and Mail since Charles Lynch wrote that Newfoundland should be towed out to sea and sunk....I see now that I definitely made the right decision.

  • Mike B.
    December 13, 2011 - 19:37

    Nice work.

  • Pierre Neary
    December 13, 2011 - 19:17

    People like Ms. Wente are the reason why the Occupy movement started.

  • D. Jones
    December 13, 2011 - 19:08

    Well said, even though it gives her a little more publicity. I keep hoping that everybody will stop clicking on links to her column, writing letters to the editor about her, or commenting under her columns on the Globe site. If we all ignored her she would vanish.

  • terry h
    December 13, 2011 - 16:25

    Well done Russell. She's just plain ignorant. But letting her to continue to write her crap for the Globe says lots about her editor too. I guess the almighty dollar is what they're all about - not people.

  • G. Noble
    December 13, 2011 - 14:58

    I would like to know what she thinks is "not doing well" when it comes to poor people. Are we going to wait until people are in run down hovels with distended stomachs before we try to shift some of the wealth downward? Also, I have a 27" color CRT TV in my bedroom I got for FREE.

    • jan desrosiers
      December 13, 2011 - 20:22

      imagiine you're in a church basement surrounded by a few dozen Margaret Wente types, fired-up on Tim Horton's and shaking 'lil Marcy or used Jim Nabor's records at you and.. Then imagine a few douzen Rob Ford types wandering about talking about... what they think. You're surrounded. The frito Lay raspy breathing intensifies as they circle you. You can smell the Cheese Doodles and Pick a Pop sweat from their brow. Then they stop to catch their breath, and procede with another 2 steps... Where to run? Where to hide? Think quick! If only you had a National Post or a dollar store pastry to throw to them as a distraction.... ARGH!

  • Dara
    December 13, 2011 - 14:54

    Margaret Wente is a fool and on top of that not a very good writer. You are not a fool and a very good writer. Obviously you will not get along. Thank you for this wonderful column.

  • David Briggs
    December 13, 2011 - 14:25

    I think that every edition of the Globe & Mail that features Margaret Wente should come with an air sickness bag. Great column Mr. Wangersky.

  • Nick
    December 13, 2011 - 13:01

    I agree that Wente is probably a part of the 1% body but to call her the mouthpiece is wrong. I think both her and her work are more closely related to the other end of the GI system.

  • Geoff Chaulk
    December 13, 2011 - 12:56

    Brilliant piece there Russell - it also gave me a few chuckles. There have times when I have enjoyed Wente's columns but she seems rather unpredictable, or maybe not!

  • David
    December 13, 2011 - 12:31

    In addition to which, "the poor", for anyone thinking about things further than North America and Western Europe, are the two thirds of the population of the planet who live on the local equivalent of ten dollars a day or less, a billion of those living on a tenth of that...

  • Heather Pullen
    December 13, 2011 - 12:00

    I'm so glad the lower classes have colour TVs. I didn't know could even buy B&W ones anymore.

  • Robin Hood
    December 13, 2011 - 11:23

    Robin Hood approves.

  • sealcove
    December 13, 2011 - 09:28

    Is this the same jim standford that that also a canadian auto workers union member, caw has done alright in newfoundland

  • Marg Wente - You are disgraceful in what you write
    December 13, 2011 - 08:30

    What a Great Article you have written Russell to counteract that excuse for a Journalist at the Globe and Mail. Since you said everything I would have liked to have being the author of, I will add just one bit of information to this commentary and that is I am including an Internet address of CBC's Ted Blades "On the Go Radio Show" of September 15th where he hosted a well-known Canadian Economist, Jim Standford . In his talk on that show Mr. Standford reminded Newfoundlanders and Labradorians of the great contribution they are making monetarily to the Canadian economy and he suggested that our province, only one of two HAVE provinces, yet with many inequalities compared to the rest of Canada are now augmenting the salaries of the richest Canadians in Canada. He advised us to wrestle back some of the wealth we send out so we can have more equality. It is only an 8 minute talk, and the last 4 minutes contain a very important message for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. http://www.cbc.ca/onthego/episodes/2011/09/15/economics-for-everyone/

    • Paul R.
      December 13, 2011 - 10:21

      It's been a mantra of the corporatists and their "journalist" shills for some time now...."the poor are not really poor (or it's their own fault), everything is fine, go shopping". Well said, Mr. Wangersky.