F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
February 27, 2000
Welfare and the Mardi Gras Mentality

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Mardi Gras comes just once a year. Thank goodness!

It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, in Cajun country to the west, in Mobile to the east and across the Gulf Coast, and even as far north as St. Louis. As tractors tow papier-maché and crepe-covered floats down oak-lined St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street in the Crescent City, parade-goers of all ages shout their traditional plea to the trinket-laden riders: "Throw me something, Mister!"

Everyone's a beggar on Carnival Day in New Orleans, pandering for handouts that come in the form of cast-metal doubloons, strings of multicolored beads, and oversized plastic cigars, toothbrushes and other oddities. It's a day of self-indulgence, and it's all in fun, but it takes hundreds of well-trained policemen, posted at every corner of the six-mile parade route, to keep the merriment from getting out of hand. As much as New Orleanians love their Mardi Gras, you'd be hardpressed to find anyone who isn't glad to see it end on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

The revelry of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the therapeutic prelude to a forty-day period of abstinence and fasting, at least for those who still recognize and observe the religious nature of the season. Derived, like "carnivore," from the Latin word for meat, "carnival" was, in more stringent times, the last chance before Easter to feast on beef, pork, or mutton. The ashes smeared on the foreheads of penitents the following morning symbolize the death of all flesh and usher in six weeks of fish-fed fervor.

Imagine if the religious significance of Mardi Gras were lost altogether and its duration unlimited. What would you have? People hanging out in the streets all year long waiting for someone to toss them a few freebies, with nothing better to do in the meantime than look for ways to get into trouble. A single day of community-wide excess may serve as a relief valve for the pressures that build up during the year, but socially-sanctioned self-indulgence on a continuing basis makes no sense at all. Yet, that's just what we had with our federal welfare system.

Welfare saps individual initiative and breeds dependency. It inclines children to delinquency and condemns them to a life of poverty. Foreign aid is nothing more than international welfare -- a global, year-long Carnival -- and the effects just as harmful.

The federal government should take a tip from the City of New Orleans. If the politicians in Washington insist on offering handouts and encouraging self-destructive behavior, let them confine this madness to a single day. Let all the recipients of government largesse -- from individual entitlements to corporate subsidies to foreign aid -- gather in Washington for an annual one-day blowout. Let them jockey for position along the streets of the nation's capital as they wait for costumed congressmen to roll past on decorated floats. Let them all scream "Throw me something, Mister!" at the top of their lungs and fight among themselves for the goodies tossed their way. Then they can go home and behave themselves for the rest of the year.

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