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'Poverty Is Not as Bad Here'

January 07, 1985

Ben Wattenberg's article (Editorial Pages, Dec. 26), "Poverty Is Not as Bad Here as the Bishops Believe," was not only belittling, it also was done for the most specious of motives, the distortion of facts to grind a political ax.

To begin with, immediately after flatly declaring the bishops wrong, Wattenberg launches into one of those manipulated comparisons between the American way of life and that of other (predictable) nations in order to portray us as superior. By now, this type of false reasoning is not only tiresome, but also embarrassing, accomplishing nothing more than a condescension to other societies, and a failed dismissal of the bishops' by now widely acclaimed conclusions.

Further, Wattenberg seems to miss the pastoral letter's underlying message completely. It is not that other societies don't know disparities in income; it is rather that in the United States the distribution of the general wealth is inequitable to the point of disgrace. Thus, the scene where in Moscow men ride in black limousines while old ladies sweep the streets with brooms made out of bound twigs, is a total and pathetic distortion.

Whoever the limousine passengers are, we can be certain they don't have the privilege because they can throw or catch a ball, perform vulgarities on television, or run stables of increasingly younger prostitutes. As for the sweeper with the "bound twigs," brooms are pretty much the same over most of the world, and whoever is keeping Moscow as spotless as it is, most certainly it is not hags in rags.

Perhaps most reprehensible is Wattenberg's blatant exclusion of the fact that the general populace in France, Russia, Japan, England and/or Canada (to mention only those he refers to) does not live every day in utter dread of what will happen should they need medical care. There are no hospitals-for-profit anywhere else, managed by the new, burgeoning (and, to me, disgusting) health services corporations--with stockholders, and all that implies. And there are no chronically or desperately ill roaming the streets in those other countries; at one level or another, everyone is assured proper treatment.

I could go on, but space prohibits. But my conclusion will be unequivocal. The bishops are more than right, Mr. Wattenberg; they admit themselves that their publicly stated findings are long overdue. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was not an elitist concept; much less was it ever intended to be translated as luck, license and the pursuit of unwarranted gain. ALAN SHEAN

Santa Monica

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