11/21/2011 04:33 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2012

What's the Problem With the Poor?

The New York Times recently did a piece on the "near poor," those who live just above the official measure of poverty in America. 

Predictably, some convenient ideologue was trotted out from the Heritage Foundation to say, “I don’t have any objection to this measure if you use the term ‘low-income’... But the emotionally charged terms ‘poor’ or ‘near poor’ clearly suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist. It is deliberately used to mislead people.”

That's the problem, isn't it? The word poor. It's an emotionally charged term—but not the right emotion. Compassion? Empathy? Those are to be avoided. Fear. Anger. For the right wing, these are acceptable emotions when it comes to deliberately misleading people. 

For those who agree that we shouldn't use the words poor or near-poor, here are some handy statements to try out at home or around the office: 

  • "I don't have any objection to calling Tiny Tim low-income, but I object to the emotionally charged term Poor Tiny Tim."
  • "Honey, I have no objection to the term low auditory function, but I object to the emotionally-charged term bad listener."
  • "I think you'll agree that impaired testicular performance sounds better than no balls." 
  • "I object to the emotionally charged term homeless. Why don't you call yourself under-housed or something? Does that work for you?"
  • "The words going hungry really hit you in the gut. How about, um, fasting?" 
  • "Debt prison. Such a downer. I like Opportunity Prison."

You can make these and other imperious statements without paying the Heritage Foundation one dirty dime. All you have to do is remember: Deliberately misleading people with fear and anger is okay—but when words are charged with any other emotion? To that you must strenuously object. The dangerous alternative is to feel an emotion that might motivate you to do something about economic injustice.