Judge Judy Sheindlin is something of an anomaly. In Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining she regularly skewers Liberals, but her philosophy at times does wander over into leftist territory. A highly vocal advocate of personal responsibility, I can totally agree with her on that. And while she has many great ideas that I agree with, at times she comes out with solutions to the social ills of society that aren’t at all practical but sound good on the surface. In that way, she seems like a typical politician, which she also denounces.
I picked up Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining a couple of years ago after coming across it in a bookstore and reading an excerpt where she discusses a young public-defense lawyer in her courtroom who is bemoaning the fact that she must commute into Manhattan from Queens every day and endure certain unpleasant aspects of that commute. This young lawyer would prefer to live in Manhattan but simply cannot afford it at the time. A short while later, that lawyer is in court before Judge Judy on behalf of a client who is trying to get her life back in order and regain custody of her children. The only impediment at the time this woman appears in court is that she hasn’t actually found a new place to live. The reason? She will only live in Manhattan and the rents are too high there. When Judge Judy questions her further on this, the young lawyer jumps to her defense stating “She has the right to live where she wants to!” Judge Judy’s response is “Not on my money she doesn’t.” She points out in the book that the lawyer did not get the irony of comparing this woman’s situation to the discussion they had in their earlier conversation.
This is one of the things I agree with Judge Judy on. The welfare state, as of the writing of Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining in 1997, was driven by an entitlement mentality where people were perpetually on it for years, having child after child. Judge Judy cites case after case of people who are receiving public assistance coming to her courtroom and thinking they are owed something by the government or that demanding accountability on their part is somehow violating their rights.
Judge Judy takes on a lot of the social order in Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining. She challenges welfare cheats, women who continue to have babies to collect more welfare, juvenile criminals, deadbeat parents, parents who use their children as pawns, social workers, politicians, her fellow judges, and more. She’s not pulling any punches here, and I am sure after the publication of this book there was a lot of hand-wringing going on.
Many specific examples she gives are enough to make even this left-of-center person’s blood boil. She can produce case after case of her years in the court of cases where people are let go from incarceration way too soon due to a judge that is too lenient or sympathetic. She cites explanations and excuses from lawyers that will make you shake your head.
The problem is that Sheindlin is limited by what she has been exposed to. Her experiences in a family court in the City of New York – and occasionally the surrounding area – have shielded her from other instances of abuse of the system by those on the other side of the aisle who call themselves “conservatives” or identify themselves with the right-wing. Want to talk about welfare moms who push out kid after kid and continue to collect benefits or get increases? How about religious fundamentalists who refuse to use birth control and have 10 kids or more and line up for government programs such as WIC? How about railing against those white-collar criminals such as Ken Lay and other corporate CEOs who victimize people who have done everything right with their lives and tried to plan for their retirement and future, only to have it stolen from them by people with ties to the right politicians? How about a complaint against those who perpetrated the Savings and Loan scandal on America who never returned any money nor were prosecuted and the taxpayers picked up the tab for trying to set it right? Perhaps if Sheindlin had been in courts with these criminals and seen these types of crimes, her views would be somewhat different.
There’s also the problem of some of the solutions she proposes not being practical. It may sound well and good to state that parents are responsible for all the behavior of their children until they reach 18 – and at times she proposes it should be 21 – but it’s not always the case. There are plenty of parents who aren’t acting like parents and are making excuses for their kids. However, there are plenty of parents who are trying to do everything right and kids just sometimes make bad choices. She cites the five kids she and her husband raised as if that means anyone can raise their kids to grow up and be productive adults, but sometimes that’s not the case. She advocates parents having to foot the bill for lawyers if they are put in jail, footing the bill for any children their children might produce before the age of maturity, etc. Why should a struggling middle-class family lose everything to the detriment of other children who might be in the home simply because one of their children makes bad choices?
Another example is the foster care system. I don’t think there’s anyone who would deny that it’s screwed up. And after reading Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining you’ll be even more convinced. Her solution is to say we should do what we used to do. I have to wonder what exactly she means since “what we used to do” was have kids warehoused in orphanages or otherwise institutionalized. It was as if we were penalizing the child for the actions of the parent. Her other idea is to get more strict with foster homes. While that all sounds well and good, the fact is that there are not enough homes for all the children in the system as it is. I would love it if every home could be screened more thoroughly and people have to take classes and prove a level of literacy and capability before we placed a child with them, relative or not. However, what happens to the kids in the meantime?
I read Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining for the first time years ago, and some of it seems quite dated now. It’s not terribly bad, but it’s noticeable. There are flaws in many of her arguments, but I suspect the Trump crowd will like what they hear from her as it seems to buy into the notion that anything bad that happens to you is your own damn fault and too bad. However, for those of us on the left, it should be read simply for the specific examples of how some of the programs we advocate are abused and for us to develop solutions. I’m 100% for compassion for people who have fallen on hard times and need help getting back on their feet. However, I don’t feel it should be a perpetual way of life, for anyone. In my eyes, that’s true whether you are a crack addict having a seventh kid you won’t take care of or a right-wing religious fundamentalist who feels God only has the right to decide how many kids you have as you line up at the WIC office.
Categories: Book Reviews