Sunday, January 12, 2014

Patches of Dignity

I was listening to NPR the other day and Robert Caro was discussing the 4th volume of his biography of Lyndon Johnson.  I was deeply moved by a story he told to illustrate Lyndon Johnson’s hatred of poverty (this week marked the 50th anniversary of his War on Poverty).

This is the passage from the book relating this episode:
“Hate” is, in fact, a word that occurs frequently in descriptions of Lyndon Johnson’s feelings about poverty.  He “hated poverty and illiteracy,” Dr, Hurst would say.  “He hated it when a person who wanted to work could not get a job.”  Accompanying Johnson on a vice presidential trip to Iran, Hurst had seen his reaction when someone in the party said that a group of Iranian children they passed had “rags” for clothing.
“They did not,” Johnson said.  “Don’t say that.  I know rags when I see them.  They had patched clothes.  That is a lot different than rags.”  Hurst says that “I noted as the years passed that he reacted in the same way whenever he heard the word ‘rags.’  I realized that to him rags were the ultimate symbol of the poverty he detested.”  There had, after all, been patches on clothing worn by his brother and youngest sister, who had still been small when Sam Johnson went broke on the ranch, and that clothing certainly hadn’t been rags!
Caro, Robert A. The passage of power: The years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV. 2013, p. 543.
When you see a human being suffering from poverty what do you see?  When you look at their clothing what do you see?  
Humans do not wear rags.  Humans wear patched clothing.

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