If people are poor, or jobless, they must certainly be drug addicts, right? Let's GET them, right? Instead of helping them become employable so they can contribute to the tax base, let's demonize and humiliate them if we can, right? Who cares if the children of slackers go hungry, right?
Oh, I know. If we have to be drug tested to get our jobs, let's make everyone pee in cups before they can get food stamps! That'll teach 'em.
It almost sounds like a real idea, if you don't think about it too hard, and goodness knows we are not thinking about government policies very hard these days.
It's part of a disturbing national trend of hate and distrust toward anyone, basically, who isn't "us." Bar them, institutionalize them, deport them, treat them as second class, don't stop to see any person outside our norm as a human being, don't consider the consequences of our actions at all. As long as we have a slogan and a bumper sticker printed with it superimposed over an American flag, it must be good.
Seriously, look at the divisive figures we've chosen as the presumed nominees for the presidency. Two acid-tongued, scowling individuals at opposite ends of the spectrum full of political baggage, neither with any promise of uniting a badly divided country.
It sounded good to make people take drug tests if they would dare to ask for our help in any way. It did.
And there was even a grain of positive possibility there - perhaps we could ferret out some people with dependency problems that we could address, so they would be more able to support themselves and improve their lot in life.
But let's be honest here. We were not looking to treat people, were we? We were looking to punish them for being poor and for requiring some of our earnings to be shared with them, if we can just find the excuse.
And as usual, bitterness backfires.
There was a time when you had to fill a cup to get a job in our office, and in most. Until they noticed that they weren't catching anyone, that potential hires resented being presumed to be potential drug addicts, and that drug tests cost money.
Drug testing for applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ("welfare") has been pushed through in several states. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went further, proposing to drug test applicants for food stamps and unemployment benefits. Most of the rest of the states have people beating their chests demanding similar actions.
They were going to save taxpayers a fortune, getting all those druggies off the dole! Except, they didn't.
The states that have implmented testing have collectively spent about a million bucks on it so far, only to discover that the needy applicants for help programs use illegal drugs at a considerably lower rate than the general population.
Whoops, didn't see that coming, huh?
In fact, in the states that have started testing those on assistance, the positive test rate in all but one is under 1 percent. One state is catching a miniscule .002 percent. Now, consider that the national drug usage rate in general is over 9 percent.
And, the states never really considered what they were going to do with the drug users they did find. So none necessarily ensure those people receive evaluation and treatment, which solves a grand total of diddley squat.
In short, money is being blown on rather useless testing that could go to training people for jobs, assisting with health care, helping to educate kids to break a cycle of poverty. Why?
Our mean-spirited approach to poverty has bitten states in the butt, and we certainly hope Iowa leaders won't be rushing to follow the mistaken path of the seven states that are already forcing testing.
If people lack food or basic health care, you're not going to do anything to get them free of assistance. No society worth a damn lets its people go hungry.
And if you think it's okay to force parents, the elderly or those laid off as jobs move out of the country, to take forced drug tests, how will you feel when government makes you fill a cup in order to get your tax refund, or cast a vote or get a passport? Careful what slope you start down...
The real shame isn't that we have to expend social dollars on the needy - it's that we aren't spending it in such a way to get unfortunate families closer to the skills and opportunities they need to become self-sufficient. Go put that on your bumper, and stick it.