Recently I made the cardinal error of expressing concern for working / middle class people who represent the vast majority of our population, and especially for those who live near the poverty level. As a result, I came under fire for my “liberalism”. It was a remarkable awakening.
With a group of friends up for the weekend I mentioned that healthcare was out of reach for many, the rate of annual cost increase outstripping the growth in average income.. The response was “I’ve got mine, you’ve got yours…what’s the problem?”.
Today I was exchanging stories about power outages (we had a three hour one this morning) in a conversation with another close acquaintance. I expressed concern for folks near him who experienced a forty-four hour power outage last winter , wondering how they were able to make it through without their pipes freezing … where did they go, what did they do? The response was “I have my generator, you have yours. What do you care?”.
Interestingly, the former is a Catholic, allegedly devout; the latter a non-practicing Jew. Both people’s incomes are mid six figures or better.
Naturally politics came up, and my voting for Obama caused quite a stir. Both chided me for lapsing into liberalism in my dotage. Good thing I didn’t tell them I gave my tax rebate to the local food bank, they’d have thought me insane. I was soundly lectured on the financial implications of voting “Liberal” versus Republican, and pretty much dismissed as having succumbed to opiate induced delusion.
I understand their perspective. For forty some years I voted strictly based on my wallet, and the rights of gun ownership [read: Republican]. But the past eight Bush years have cured me of that. My thinking is broader now. But even before retirement, when I was making the big bucks, I never lost sight of my humanity.
If a good employee got drunk, we didn’t just fire him, we sent him to a program and paid for it (we were non union by the way). If an employee couldn’t pay their rent because their spouse missed work caring for their sick kid, we’d float a long term no interest loan, or give them money from the company welfare account.. We could have paid less, but we paid more or as much as a union shop. And we didn’t do these things only to be altruistic. We did them with our businesses interest in mind. It attracted and retained good employees, it cemented their loyalty, it made for a better relationship between staff and management, reduced absenteeism, reduced the need for overtime and seasonal staff with higher productivity. Inventory shortage shrank. It’s a win win for everyone.
Yep, I want to see people being able to afford to heat their house this winter, and winters to come. Yes, I feel badly when I see old folks at the food bank or young couples with kids in tow that they can’t feed on their own. Guilty, that I am discouraged at the migration of jobs overseas, the growth in unemployment, that people are struggling to buy food and gasoline, and pay for their homes in tough economic times. Mea culpa, but I don’t want to see a sick kid suffer because his parents can’t afford to take him to a doctor. That “I’ve got mine.” doesn’t satisfy me. It didn’t before I retired, it doesn’t now.
The government isn’t the answer to all these ills, but it has a role to play directly or indirectly. If that makes me some kind of half assed “liberal”, well I suppose I can live with that. On the flip side: if some one is capable of working, can find a job, but won’t lift a hand to help themselves ... let ‘em starve. If that makes me a fascist, I can live with that too. But you see, it’s not all altruism. There is some self interest.
Just as I am convinced it’s in our country’s best interest to reestablish America’s international influence, credibility and military strength which has been all but destroyed over the past eight years by a demented “divinely inspired” jingoism and self righteous “religious crusade” to spread our culture; just as I decry the complete reversal of Teddy Roosevelt’s admonishment, instead speaking loudly but not even possessing a stick to carry… so too I am convinced that it is in our best interest not to see a larger percentage of our populace descend into homelessness, succumb to the cold, go hungry, or suffer from curable illness because of influences largely beyond their control.
If Obama is elected, and doesn’t improve our standing abroad, and our domestic condition, we get to do it again in four years. Continuation of Bush’s policies via McCain holds out no promise at all.
Some people will deny the importance of our declining national prestige; down play the threat of the fanatical fundamentalist Religious Right to our freedoms; and ignore the implications of a conservative shift in the Supreme Court. These same people will turn a blind eye to the suffering and gradual dissolution of the middle classes and what it foreshadows ... and all this to ensure retention of 2 or 3 percentage points of their earnings. It’s narrow thinking.
“I’ve got mine.” is as shitty a philosophy as was “Let them eat cake!”