Op-Ed

Our moral betters generously ‘richsplain’ path to prosperity

Jaci Carfagno
Jaci Carfagno

By now, pretty much everyone who might read this is familiar with the term “mansplain.” Every woman understands the phenomenon in which a man explains something the woman fully understands better than the man himself.

The roots of the condescension of mansplaining rest in the unspoken but profound male belief that they’re just a bit smarter, better informed, more clear-eyed than the frail women they encounter.

Lately, I’ve been noticing another, related phenomenon that I call “richsplain.” There’s often a lot of overlap with mansplain but essentially it’s when rich people ‘splain the realities of the cruel, hard world of money to people who struggle because they don’t have enough of it.

Our beloved Gov. Matt Bevin is a great richsplainer. Can you beat richsplaining to poor black people in West Louisville that the solution to unemployment, violence and other problems in their community is to walk around in prayer groups?

Wow! If only those black ministers working to improve the neighborhood would get out of the churches they minister to and catch some magic at Bevin’s Southeastern Christian Church with five “campuses” and a web site that looks like it’s a Club Med except everyone is fully clothed — “Engaging, contemporary music,” “No dress code for our worship services – come as you are!” — wouldn’t that just do the trick?

Or consider Bevin’s richsplain plan to require Medicaid recipients to do some volunteer work to “earn” their dental and vision care. Yeah, that’s the idea! Forget that the rent is due, you’re making $7.50 an hour, your kids don’t have clothes, you can’t pay your utility bills — just a few hours of volunteer work and your self-respect will soar and your cavities will be filled! Next thing you know, you’ll own a hedge fund!

I got richsplained myself a few years ago when I wrote a column about my family’s cost of health care during a period when neither adult in our household was fully employed. A reader emailed to ‘splain me how to manage a budget. His family, he said, had foregone new cars, settling instead for models four or five years old. “Thanks, I never thought of that,” I mumbled as I urged my 15-year-old van into gear.

Richsplain is nothing new, as historian Terry Golway demonstrates in “Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the creation of modern American Politics.” Wealthy, Protestant, uptown reformers saw New York’s downtown huddled immigrant masses of Catholics and Jews as people to be improved. See, the trouble wasn’t that they’d arrived poor, often malnourished, with little education or English.

The trouble, for the Irish anyway, was that they were Catholic!

One charitable society organized by the wealthy elite, Golway writes, “sought to improve the condition of the Irish poor by leading them away from Catholicism.” The association, he goes on, “was intent on distinguishing between the ‘worthless’ poor and the ‘modest and deserving’ poor.” As a Tammany wag noted, people could starve to death while their high-minded benefactors determined whether they were worthy of help.

Of course, richsplain has been at the heart of whatever we call this recent discussion about health care — I hesitate to use the word “debate.”

People with what passes in this country for really good health insurance — usually because they have great government jobs, like U.S. Senator or Representative — have thrown out all kinds of crazy richsplaining about why other people should be unhappy to have health insurance.

Take the argument that you won’t get to choose your doctor. You know, it is amazing how often you hear fast food workers comparing notes on the best doctors, clinics, hospitals. Ever get sick on vacation? Didn’t you ask the hotel maid to recommend the best local doc?

And that healthy living stuff. Yeah, if poor people would only walk from their food desert neighborhoods to a Whole Foods, they’d get tons of exercise and be able to buy expensive produce. Problem richsplained away.

Can’t wait for Congress to take on tax reform. It will be a richsplain bonanza. I guaran-damn-tee-it.

Jacalyn Carfagno, a Herald-Leader editorial writer, can also be reached at 231-1652.

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