Home/Rod Dreher/Maybe We Should Ask the Poor

Maybe We Should Ask the Poor

Longtime Republican operative Douglas MacKinnon grew up dirt-poor in Boston, and wrote a book about poverty based on his own experiences. He complains that even though politicians used to call him for advice when he wrote books about other things, politicians aren’t calling him now. Notice that he’s not objecting to a lack of publicity (which he doesn’t seem to be suffering from), but from a lack of interest by the political class. Excerpt:

I find this odd and more than a little troubling. This is not about me. I don’t care if it’s other people who write a column or a book based on their own experience of unrelenting poverty. I don’t care if they are liberal or conservative. But when poverty remains one of the unsolved tragedies of our time, shouldn’t the observations of someone who truly suffered through it matter to at least one elected official?

In many ways, the mind-numbing ignorance of our “leaders” with regard to true poverty is the largest obstacle to finding actual solutions.

From MacKinnon’s new memoir:

I was born in a hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the time, Dorchester was an ultratough, blue-collar section of Boston, filled with mostly wonderful, hardworking people; it’s a place I will always be proud to call home.

Dorchester was never the problem. Poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness were the problems; and they were manufactured by two people—and two people only—our “parents,” John Mac Kinnon and Marie Carmel Mac Kinnon. These two individuals were not only full-blown alcoholics, but complete hedonists who saw their three emaciated and damaged children as obstacles to be crushed on their egocentric path to self-destruction.

By the time I was seventeen, our family had moved a total of thirty-four times. For those of you who, like me, are not fond of math, that’s an average of once every six months.None of the moves were voluntary—some, in fact, were quite disturbing and violent.

I dunno, I think I’d rather hear what he has to say about poverty than what someone from a liberal or conservative think tank in Washington has to say.

I interviewed this week a thirty-year-old young woman from my town who had been taught by my sister in sixth grade.  We spent an hour on the phone, and without question it was one of the most rewarding and inspiring hours I’ve ever spent with anybody. She talked about how she came from a very poor and messed up family — dad a chronic drunk, mom working three jobs to hold everyone together, etc. — and how my sister Ruthie, her teacher, was the only adult in her life who showed her love. S. talked in detail about how Ruthie helped her, and how she continued to help her throughout her school career by believing in her, and not letting her use her poverty and horrible home life as an excuse to fail. S. said, “A lot of teachers knew how hard I had it, and they felt sorry for me. Ruthie felt sorry for me, but she also knew what I was capable of, and wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself.”

Today, S. has a husband, kids, and a great job at UCLA. By contrast, three of her brothers are in prison. She, though, has made it, and she credits Ruthie for making the big difference in her life. I bet S. has a lot she could tell Congress about poverty.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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