LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, let me introduce you to the word "the." It is what is known in grammar as an article, but if used correctly and properly it will enable you to erect a barrier against thinking. In a certain context, for instance, it can make a label out of people. I give you, for instance, The Poor.

The Poor will be much discussed in the next couple of months. It is clear that The Poor are in for a hard time. This is because The Economy is in trouble and something has to give. The government can no longer afford to be all things to all people. It cannot, for instance, both support The Defense Department in the manner to which it wants to become accustomed and treat The Poor the same way.

As a result, The Poor will get less of everything. The Poor will get fewer food stamps and no abortions and less medical care and less Medicaid and no more of those wild-eyed government lawyers who took their side in legal disputes and helped them untangle their often frazzled lives. No more lawyers for The Poor.

Mind you, we are not talking about people -- real people, as they are called on television. We have made The Poor an abstraction, a label. In this way, they are not human so when they are deprived of their food stamps they will not be hungry and their children will not have vitamin deficiencies and sometimes nod off in school. And when you deprive them of a government lawyer you have not, for instance, deprived some woman of a lawyer by which to divorce the man who routinely beats her, you have merely deprived The Poor of a government program. There is no suffering involved. That happens to people. It does not happen to The Poor.

The Poor are like The Enemy. The Enemy is a term used for the people we kill. During wartime, especially during an unpopular war, our planes drop bombs on The Enemy. We kill The Enemy. In this way we avoid killing people. To kill people as a negotiating tactic, as we did in Vietnam, would be troubling to many people. To kill people even to win a war is troubling to others. But to kill The Enemy to Secure The Peace, is a different matter entirely.

It is possible to talk about The Poor because we -- we of The Middle Class -- don't see them anymore. We drive to work on freeways and work in glass and aluminum boxes and we don't see poor people anymore -- look into the windows where they live, for instance. We are no longer a nation of country folk where the rich saw the poor and knew them and went to school with them (up until a certain age, anyway) and had to look them in the eyes. Goodbye poor people; hello The Poor.

The Poor are not the only ones who have been made into abstractions. The same thing has happened to, of all people, motorcyclists. Something like 24 states have repealed laws requiring cyclists to wear helmets. This wave of repeal is based on a number of factors, but mostly it is fueled by the belief that everyone, regardless of race, creed or national origin, has the right to kill himself or herself on a motorcycle. That is wonderful theory, but it has little to do with what happens to real people when their real heads hit the real ground.They really die.

Another abstraction: The Worker. The Worker must make some sacrifices.

He or she must take a cut in real wages and must produce more and may have to work in an environment that is not as healthy as it should be. Theoretically, this is a shame and too bad, but The Economy is in some trouble and so The Worker is going to have to pitch in, too.

All this is wonderful until The Workers become humans who are not rich to begin with and who work hard already and who are now going to cough their lungs out or get smashed with a piece of machinery or work around some chemical that is going to turn their fingers green and do something awful to their as-yet-unborn children. If they don't like it, they could become The Unemployed, but then they, too, are going to have to make some sacrifices.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for this revolution and I know that The People must sacrifice and I know that something has to be done to improve The Economy. But let's stop putting labels on people as if they were things. The Worker is a person and The Unemployed are workers who can't find work and The Poor are poor people -- poor, poor people. Using the word "The" doesn't take the suffering out of their lives. It just takes the compassion out of ours.