Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Mona Charen: Separatism Plus Welfarism Equals Dead End
[Fri Jul 02 2004]
Writing in the November/December issue of The American Enterprise magazine, Hendrik Mills relates the following true story about life on an Indian reservation:
A young couple brought their toddler in to see the dentist (government-sponsored). Her teeth were all rotted down to the gum line. The dentist asked the parents why they had disregarded his instructions never to leave the baby alone in her crib with a bottle of milk or pop. "You fix her teeth," the parents responded. "That's your job."
The child with the rotting teeth is an excellent symbol of what has become of Indian reservation life in the past 25 to 30 years. Starting in the 1960s, Indians have demanded greater autonomy, more money (yes, there is a contradiction) and recognition of the unique Native American culture. They got it all.
Since then, they have been the "beneficiaries" of countless freebies paid for by the federal government. These include free health care with no co-payments for every kind of medical service (including cosmetic surgery); "impact aid" for the daily expenses of running a school district; federally funded tribal colleges on almost every reservation, with scholarships and living stipends; "treaty money," a lump sum of $10,000 given to every Indian in certain tribes who reach the age of 18 in settlement of various historical claims first asserted in the 1960s, and much more.
Throughout the larger society outside the reservation, Indians can demand preferences in hiring and school admissions, exemption from many taxes including vehicle, county, state income and, for some, federal income taxes, and more.
In the years before the '60s "gimme" model took over, American Indians certainly had problems. Poverty and alcoholism were particularly acute. But the structure of the Indian family was stable, children were cared for attentively by parents, and violence and disorder were not features of reservation schools.
But federal largesse — white guilt if you will — has changed the structure of life completely. As such, it is almost a perfect laboratory experiment. What becomes of people who a) wallow in victim mentality and b) get the essentials of life handed to them by distant benefactors? Answer: They get worse.
Of course, it is true that American Indians (like American blacks) were true victims. There is no question that in the three-century struggle for domination of this continent, the more advanced people won. It is also true that American Indians were cruelly treated (though they treated one another brutally as well) and repeatedly cheated out of what was theirs. President Andrew Jackson's reputation, to cite just one of many examples, is stained by his treatment of the Cherokee people, who were forcibly deported from the South.
But all of that might as well have been ancient Rome. In the late 20th century, the question is no longer "Who shall control this land?" but rather "How do you live a good and authentic life as an Indian in the United States of America?" And the welfare state approach of the last 30 years has been an abysmal failure at improving the lives of Indians.
The schools are full of poorly dressed, ill-cared-for children. It's not poverty but rather parental neglect that results in these sullen, ill-clad children. Academic standards have fallen sharply, but many of the children, steeped in an "America owes us" mentality, do not see the benefits of hard work. Those Indians who do graduate often take the Indian bureaucracy jobs reserved for them. Tribal government positions pay between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.
Hendrik Mills began life as a liberal. So sympathetic was he to the claims of Indians that he chose to go and live on a reservation with his wife. Hard experience taught him how devastating it is to take charity on a permanent basis — even if it comes in a bottle labeled "reparations."
MONA CHAREN writes for Creators Syndicate. She is on vacation this week. This article first appeared November 1998.
>> A young couple brought their toddler in to see the dentist (government-sponsored). Her teeth were all rotted down to the gum line. The dentist asked the parents why they had disregarded his instructions never to leave the baby alone in her crib with a bottle of milk or pop. "You fix her teeth," the parents responded. "That's your job." <<
One, I wouldn't bet on this story's being true.
Two, I wasn't aware that milk rots teeth.
Three, is Mills or Charen seriously suggesting that Indians are so ignorant about health care that they'd give a bottle of sugar-filled soda pop to a baby? Talk about painting Indians as primitive savages...!
Four, assuming this incident did happen, who says Mills and Charen have interpreted it correctly? Let's deconstruct it:
a) The Indian couple didn't agree with the dentist that they had caused the baby's rotten teeth. Maybe they had an alternate explanation but didn't feel it was their place to disagree with a health official.
b) Maybe they did cause the baby's teeth to rot but for reasons other than depraved indifference. For instance, maybe they were too poor to afford proper baby food but were too proud to admit it.
c) Most important, the Indians' comment says little or nothing about what they were thinking. Fixing teeth is a dentist's job, so their statement was factually correct. When is it wrong to make a factually correct statement?
For whatever reason, maybe they didn't want to discuss the cause of their baby's rotten teeth. Maybe they blamed the dentist but were too polite to say so. In any case, they wanted the dentist to do his job and fix the teeth regardless of the problem's cause.
For Charen to base her whole article on this ambiguous incident is ridiculous. But it's typical of right-wingers to blame the poor for their own plight. Demonizing the lower classes: a tried-and-true conservative technique for generations.
Health care an "excellent symbol"...of Charen's bias
>> The child with the rotting teeth is an excellent symbol of what has become of Indian reservation life in the past 25 to 30 years. <<
Uh-huh. Then I guess the growing obesity of white children must be an excellent symbol of what has become of American life in the past 25 to 30 years. I trust Charen is in excellent health—isn't overweight, doesn't smoke, etc.—or she may be a excellent symbol of American life today.
Charen's example of health care on reservations is a particularly poor choice for her thesis. Why? Because health care is subsidized everywhere in the US, not just on reservations.
Government officials, military personnel, and corporate executives are among the many who get health care "free." Does this dependence cause them to stop working and start expecting handouts? Charen talks about how children become lazy, sullen, and violence-prone when they get everything on a silver platter. Does that explain why George W. Bush drank, took drugs, and broke the law in his youth...flitted from failed business to business...before becoming president and sending thousands of people to their deaths? He must be a textbook case of how the privileged feeling entitled to do whatever they want without integrity or restraint.
In truth, most Americans receive health-care coverage through insurance plans from employers or the government. Almost no one pays the actual costs of their care. Except for small co-payments, they have no incentive to choose their care wisely or ration it. This leads to a situation many have noted: that Americans spend too much on health care for too little results.
No doubt Charen would claim that health care on reservations is "socialized" while mainstream health care operates on "free market" principles. Such claims are nothing short of comical. Almost everyone thinks America's health-care system is badly screwed up, careening out of control, facing a crisis. By such measures as mortality rates, our health is worse than that in other industrialized countries—most of whom practice some sort of "socialized" medicine. But Charen seems oblivious to these points.
Who wants the US health-care system?
The evidence against the American health-care system is voluminous and readily available. Any Google search on the subject would turn up hundreds of articles.
Here's a sample of what Charen apparently doesn't know. From How U.S. Health Care Stacks Up Internationally in Dollar and Sense magazine, May/June 2001:
Overall, the United States spends about 50% more per capita on health care than any other country. The private sector accounts for about 56% of total health spending in the United States, compared to an average of 25% in other industrialized countries. At the same time, public health spending per capita is higher in the United States than in any other wealthy capitalist country except Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Germany. You would think that with our unrivaled levels of spending, Americans would be the healthiest people on earth. But our health-care system is abysmally inefficient when it comes to delivering health.
A pathbreaking new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) studies and ranks how 191 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, provide health care. Researchers compared each country's achievements to the resources available in that country. They then ranked this performance against that of other countries. The WHO based its assessments on five categories: overall population health, health inequalities, health system responsiveness (based on patient satisfaction, waiting periods, etc.), distribution of responsiveness (how well the system serves people of differing economic status), and distribution of costs.
The WHO gives the United States high marks for its world-class doctor training and advanced medical technology. And the United States tops the list in "responsiveness" for virtues like confidentiality, brief waiting periods, and patient decision-making autonomy. But overall, the United States ranks 37th in national performance, behind not only most European nations and Japan, but also Chile, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.
American health-care performance is weighed down by its shabby provision for the 16% of citizens who are not insured. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, uninsured people are more likely to miss recommended medical tests and treatments. Uninsured children are 30% less likely to receive treatment after an injury. And death rates for uninsured women with breast cancer are 40-60% higher than for insured women, after adjusting for age, income, and race.
Even for those with insurance, the U.S. system does worse in many ways than other countries'. While few U.S. doctors make house calls, such visits are both common and inexpensive in Italy, France, and Germany. "Patients in countries like France and Germany have more doctors' visits, specialist care and hospital time than their counterparts elsewhere," the Wall Street Journal admits. "Permission isn't needed to see a specialist or get a second opinion, and week-long trips to the spa are not uncommon treatment in Germany." Not so under the United States' "managed care" system.
Profit drives the U.S. system, and what is most profitable for hospitals, insurance companies, or drug companies is not most effective at producing good health. Much of the United States' "health-care spending" goes to company profits, multi-million dollar CEO salaries, and marketing. The health industry focuses on people with the greatest ability to pay rather than the greatest need for care. Private healthcare spending therefore goes disproportionately toward expensive eleventh-hour measures unlikely to extend life for very long and to pricey lifestyle drugs such as Rogaine. Lack of access to basic care, in turn, makes for costly system-wide inefficiencies. When poor women cannot get basic prenatal care, for example, they and their newborns are more likely to suffer complications requiring round-the-clock intensive care. When uninsured people are unable to see a general practitioner, they often must rely on expensive emergency room care.
Why would Indians want to emulate the mainstream US system? So 10% or 20% of them could go without health care, as they do in the US generally? Such a deal.
Blame the system or blame the victim?
But Indians on reservation do want better health care than they're getting now. Why isn't the present system doing the job? It's not because Indians are getting enough health-care benefits and squandering them. It's because the so-called benefits are substantially less than what other Americans receive from employers or the government.
Simply put, Indian health care is worse because less money is spent on it. A press release posted on Indianz.com explains the situation:
Daschle criticizes Bush on Indian health funds
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
The following is a press release from Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota).
Senator Tom Daschle today criticized President Bush's Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposal for drastically underfunding the Indian Health Service (IHS).
Bush's budget proposal includes only $2.1 billion for the IHS clinical services account that funds individual health care services, far below the $5.54 billion Daschle requested in a December letter to President Bush. In the letter, Daschle noted that recent IHS funding increases have failed to keep pace with medical inflation or population growth, and called the state of Indian health care a "a national disgrace that simply must end."
"Once again, President Bush and his Republican allies have abandoned Native Americans," said Senator Daschle. "The President likes to call himself a 'compassionate conservative.' But there is nothing compassionate about a budget that leaves thousands of Indians without access to even the most basic medical care."
A recent study of federal health care spending per capita found that the United States spends $3,803 per year per federal prisoner, while spending about half that amount per year, per Native American: $1,914. Per capital health care spending for the U.S. general population is $5,065 per year. Daschle pledged to continue his efforts to improve Indian health care and ensure adequate funding for IHS.
"It is simply unacceptable for our nation to spend more money on health care for prisoners than we do on health care for Native Americans," Daschle added. "Our government has made a commitment to provide high-quality health care to Native Americans, and I will continue to make every effort to ensure that it does. The first step is to give the Indian Health Service the resources it needs to provide that care."
So why did the Indian baby have rotten teeth? We can only speculate. Perhaps because an overworked dentist checked the baby only once years earlier, whereas most Americans might get their babies checked every six months. Perhaps because a harried dentist spent only a few minutes with the parents, whereas mainstream dentists might spend an hour with mainstream parents. The possibilities are many, and Charen's unwillingness to consider them shows her ideological bias.
What's behind Charen's push to overthrow--i.e., abandon--the system of government-funded Indian services? The press release continues:
Republicans have continually opposed efforts to increase funding for the Indian Health Service, blocking Daschle legislation that would have increased IHS funding by $2.9 billion in March 2003 and a second measure offered in September of last year that would have provided one tenth of that amount — an additional $292 million — for the IHS.
There you have it. Correcting problems such as inadequate health care on reservations would cost money. Conservatives like Charen would rather spend the government's money on fruitless wars or give it away to fat-cat corporations and individuals. Instead of fulfilling their obligations to uphold the government's treaties, they blame the victim. That way they get to keep their money.
In short, conservatives would rather buy million-dollar yachts and thousand-dollar screwdrivers than help poor kids with bad teeth. That's why "compassionate conservativism" continues to be a first-class oxymoron.
>> Starting in the 1960s, Indians have demanded greater autonomy, more money (yes, there is a contradiction) and recognition of the unique Native American culture. <<
If demanding greater autonomy and more money is a contradiction, it isn't one unique to Indians. Most Americans demand more services and benefits from their government while also demanding fewer taxes and regulations. See The Myth of American Self-Reliance for more on the subject.
Indians get "countless freebies"?
>> Since then, they have been the "beneficiaries" of countless freebies paid for by the federal government. These include free health care with no co-payments for every kind of medical service (including cosmetic surgery); "impact aid" for the daily expenses of running a school district; federally funded tribal colleges on almost every reservation, with scholarships and living stipends; "treaty money," a lump sum of $10,000 given to every Indian in certain tribes who reach the age of 18 in settlement of various historical claims first asserted in the 1960s, and much more. <<
Every statement in this list is patently false or misleading:
1) Free health care? Maybe if they live on reservations (the majority of Indians don't). Maybe in an underfunded and understaffed health clinic, not a full-fledged medical center. Maybe in a clinic 25 or 50 miles from their homes, unreachable except in emergencies.
I haven't heard of Indians getting "cosmetic surgery," unless it's to correct deviated septums or ameliorate skin burns. If Charen thinks lots of Indians are getting breast or nose jobs at government expense, she's sadly mistaken.
2) "Impact aid" for the daily expenses of running a school district? Every American school gets state and federal aid, so I'm not sure how Indian schools are any different.
3) Federally funded tribal colleges on almost every reservation? Here Charen goes from misleading statements to outright falsehoods. There are 560-plus federally recognized tribes and about 36 tribal colleges. Even if we exclude the tribes and Alaskan villages without reservations, the US still has about 275 land areas administered as Indian reservations. That means there's one college for every 7.5 reservations, not one for every reservation.
4) "Treaty money," a lump sum of $10,000 given to every Indian in certain tribes? I'm not sure what Charen is talking about here, but any such payments are rare. If she's referring to payments such as the present distribution of funds to the Western Shoshone, a few points:
a) A one-time payment of cents on the dollar for valuable acreage doesn't begin to compensate Indians for their loss. If the government thinks the payments are fair, it should be willing to give the land back, since it's presumably equal in value to the payments. You can be sure such a return will never happen. The government knows it's ripping off Indians by giving them a fraction of what the land's really worth.
b) Many tribes resist or refuse such payments because they'd rather have their land back. How does this square with Charen's thesis that Indians have a welfare or entitlement mentality? Why would they pass up "free money" if they're as lazy and shiftless as Charen implies?
c) A one-time payment of $10,000 isn't that much money. Many Americans get that much of a gift every year in college loans, subsidized medical payments, and mortgage deductions on their income taxes. Is Charen saying all Americans are equally guilty of taking government largesse?
The key point to remember is that the "freebies" aren't free. Indians paid for these benefits with the land and freedom they gave up. The government is giving them the compensation they're due, not money for nothing.
Indians don't pay taxes?
>> Throughout the larger society outside the reservation, Indians can demand preferences in hiring and school admissions, exemption from many taxes including vehicle, county, state income and, for some, federal income taxes, and more. <<
Indians can demand hiring preferences, but they probably won't get them. Schools and businesses have cut affirmation action programs way back, and few of these programs guaranteed slots to minorities.
Next Charen makes another blatantly false statement...that Indians don't pay taxes. It's one of the hoariest stereotypes on the books.
Actually, Indians are subject to all taxes "outside the reservation." Even if they live on the reservation, they're subject to federal income taxes. They're also subject to other taxes if they work off the reservation.
>> In the years before the '60s "gimme" model took over, American Indians certainly had problems. Poverty and alcoholism were particularly acute. But the structure of the Indian family was stable, children were cared for attentively by parents, and violence and disorder were not features of reservation schools. <<
Does Charen have any statistics to bolster her claim that Indian reservations have gotten worse since the 1960s? Of course not.
Society in general has deteriorated in some ways since the 1960s. Family structures are less stable. Schools are worse. Crime rates are higher (though they're lower since Reagan left office). Etc.
Charen probably would blame this deterioration on the "gimme" model of society in general. And again, this would be her unsubstantiated opinion. As an alternative, we could blame society's shortcomings on the loss of faith after the Vietnam War and Watergate...the "me-first" model of the greed- and scandal-plagued 1980s...the lack of investment in social needs and infrastructure...the increase in media violence...etc.
>> But federal largesse — white guilt if you will — has changed the structure of life completely. As such, it is almost a perfect laboratory experiment. What becomes of people who a) wallow in victim mentality and b) get the essentials of life handed to them by distant benefactors? Answer: They get worse. <<
Charen hasn't even documented that the so-called "federal largesse"—i.e., legitimate payments based on treaty obligations—has increased since the 1960s. But let's assume it has. The question is whether life on Indian reservations was better or worse in the 1950s or, say, the 1990s (before Indian gaming affected the "perfect laboratory experiment").
I haven't done a survey or anything, but my impression is that most Indians on reservations would say their life was better in the 1990s. In the '50s, the federal government and its corporate partners were stealing their resources blind while trying to legislate them out of existence. By the '90s, most tribes had gained some semblance of sovereignty and control over their own destinies. I think most tribes would accept the tradeoffs, Charen's paternalistic sentiments notwithstanding.
Victimizers more advanced than victims?
>> Of course, it is true that American Indians (like American blacks) were true victims. There is no question that in the three-century struggle for domination of this continent, the more advanced people won. It is also true that American Indians were cruelly treated (though they treated one another brutally as well) and repeatedly cheated out of what was theirs. <<
Charen throws readers a bone to prove she isn't really prejudiced against Indians. But it doesn't change the tone of her piece. And even when she's presumably trying, she weakens her already weak exculpation with her continued arrogance.
The "more advanced people won"? Advanced in what way—the ability to kill and conquer others? I guess that makes the Nazis the most advanced civilization ever, since they killed so many people so easily.
And Indians "treated one another brutally as well"? Some did, but many didn't, and any intertribal violence was dwarfed by Euro-American violence. Judging by the Civil War, Dresden, and Hiroshima, Americans are among the most brutal people ever.
>> In the late 20th century, the question is no longer "Who shall control this land?" but rather "How do you live a good and authentic life as an Indian in the United States of America?" <<
Too bad Charen doesn't have an answer to her question. If eliminating government payments is her answer, why don't we try that on the recipients of Bush's tax cuts, defense contractors, or the nation of Israel first? If they can survive without "welfare," then we'll see if poor people can do without it.
>> And the welfare state approach of the last 30 years has been an abysmal failure at improving the lives of Indians. <<
No, the approach before the 1960s was an abysmal failure. That's why the Indians revolted against that approach. Remember Alcatraz? Wounded Knee II? If Indians had been happy with their lot in life, they wouldn't have acted during the '60s.
The so-called welfare state has existed since the end of the Indian Wars in the late 19th century. That's when the government took away the Indians' land and freedom, forcing them to survive on handouts of food and clothing. That the government has used a "welfare state" approach only since the 1960s is Charen's self-deluding fiction.
Again, if Charen doesn't like the government's approach, she should look back to her first question (above). Why not give Indians control of their land? Complete control, as in full sovereignty, as in wholly independent nations? Give them the tools they need to succeed—of which land ownership is fundamental. Then see what happens.
Again, that isn't going to happen. So how does Charen feel about the latest alternative: Indian gaming? If she's like most conservatives, she's against it. What a surprise to find that those who champion a free-market approach in theory oppose it in reality.
Indian children in rags?
>> The schools are full of poorly dressed, ill-cared-for children. It's not poverty but rather parental neglect that results in these sullen, ill-clad children. <<
Poorly dressed, ill-clad children? Where does Charen get this stuff? I've read lots of Indian newspapers and all the kids I've seen in photos have been well-dressed. Are tribes hiding the dirty, ragged ones?
If Charen has ever stepped foot on a reservation, I'd be surprised. Read an Indian news source to find out what's really happening in Indian country. Don't take an ideologue's word for it.
>> Academic standards have fallen sharply, but many of the children, steeped in an "America owes us" mentality, do not see the benefits of hard work. <<
Again, this opinion appears to be an invention of Charen's. Actually, the majority of poor people everywhere work much harder than rich people to make ends meet. Only a few sit around waiting for welfare checks.
If Charen thinks being poor is easy, she should try it sometime. Oh, but wait. Barbara Ehrenreich already tried that experiment in her book Nickel and Dimed. She was able to emulate the working poor only a few months before she had to give up, exhausted. Charen should read the book before she brays her ignorant opinions.
>> Those Indians who do graduate often take the Indian bureaucracy jobs reserved for them. <<
Okay...so? Is taking a government job bad? A few million Americans work in government jobs, including our soldiers in Iraq and failed businessmen like George W. Bush.
>> Tribal government positions pay between $30,000 and $50,000 per year. <<
Again, so? That's an average, middle-class wage, isn't it? How much should these positions pay? Is Charen upset because some Indians are earning more than she does?
>> Hard experience taught him how devastating it is to take charity on a permanent basis — even if it comes in a bottle labeled "reparations." <<
If Mills learned a lesson, Charen has failed to validate it. Maybe she should get Mills to write her articles for her. And again, treaty payments aren't reparations—yet another mistake on Charen's part. The only people labeling them "reparations" are know-nothings like her.
It's amazing how many ways conservatives can find to castigate the poor for their own plight. Perhaps that's the function of all those right-wing think tanks: to come up with ways to blame the victim. I wouldn't be surprised if they were churning out fill-in-the-blank essays for pundits like Charen to publish in newspapers.
Indians as welfare recipients
Should Indians cling to reservations?
The essential facts about Indians today
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.