Immigrants, welfare claimants, beggars … the temptation to blame the victim is ever-present …
August 3rd, 1988
In the stories I have read or watched about the beggars lately the name of Ronald Reagan has barely been mentioned, as though no known connection existed between slashing funds for public housing, attacking welfare programs of one sort or another, and the consequent effect on the targets of these cuts.
A second remarkable quality of these stories is the tremendous hostility expressed towards the homeless. Like many unpleasant media trends, this one appears to have originated with The New York Times, whose editors and reporters have to complete their journey to work by walking through the seedy Times Square area, soon to be purged of its riff-raff by developers cheered on, naturally by The New York Times.
Today a Times editorial laments the fact that the beggars of yesteryear – ‘the legless man propelling himself on a little wheeled platform and the sightless man asking for help to buy a seeing-eye dog’ – have been replaced by a more aggressive type: ‘Unlike the legless and the sightless, who merely shook their tin cups, the new beggars speak right up. “Give me a quarter”, they order, or “Help me out, lady.”‘ There is a real note of nostalgia, as though the old-style beggars – man on platform, man in need of dog – belong to some ordered universe now gone. They’ll probably show up in wax soon at the Museum of Natural History.
Alexander Cockburn, The Golden Age is in Us (London: Verso), p.43.