With election season in full swing, I find myself much more hypnotized by the political rhetoric than I normally would be. Mitt Romney’s comment, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I will fix it”, during Soledad O’brien’s interview was a jaw-dropping moment for me. Initially, I could not believe that he said it, but then it occurred to me that it was probably one of the more genuine, although despicable, comments of his campaign.
Think about it. Mitt has lived a life of privilege; he has never known a day when he has gone hungry, he has never suffered the morale shattering effects of downsizing or outsourcing, and certainly has never lived paycheck to paycheck, just one catastrophic event away from losing his home. Mitt is not alone in this, many individuals delegated to represent us in government enjoy this same privileged lifestyle. Lets face it, until you have walked in someone else’s shoes you can’t know what they are going through.
Whether Mitt knows it or not, there are more and more formerly middle class Americans who have fallen into poverty, lost their jobs, lost their homes, and are living on the streets. Those who are not living on the streets may have some form of employment income, which is hardly enough to live on, but is too much to qualify for the safety net programs Romney talks about. These people on the fringe are one step away from being counted in the ranks of the “very poor,” and it appears that he doesn’t care about them.
To illustrate: yesterday, I was listening to a radio program discussing this very topic, the plight of the very poor, when a caller arrogantly exclaimed, “Those that need a safety net should go to their local church and it should be an individual’s choice whether he/she wants to assist the poor or not.” This was then followed by the obligatory, “This is America, everyone can better their situation if they want to. They should pick themselves up by the bootstraps and change things.” This, of course, is paraphrased but it is an accurate account of what was said. The caller’s comment was met with a resounding, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” by the host and his guest; clearly expressing their disbelief in what the caller had just said. My contention is that this is the same ideology that most Republicans and especially Tea Party conservatives continuously regurgitate as the gospel.
Friends, and when I say friends I am including Republicans and Democrats alike, this is no longer your father’s or grandfather’s America. The world has changed if you haven’t noticed. Jobs which once provided comfortable livings for our citizens, have gone to China, India, or one of a hundred other developing countries all in the name of globalization. Foreclosures are at historic highs. Whether due to deregulation of the banking industry, deceptive loan practices, or flat-out greed, one can’t deny the fact that the American dream of home ownership is at the least dying, if not already dead. Satisfaction with congress and the president is at an all time low. The ideological division between the two political parties is the worst that I have ever seen. They seem to be in an eternal deadlock. Nothing is getting done, and the American people are the ones who are suffering.
At the top of the list, in my view, is the enormous divide between the rich and the poor, which is currently the widest this country has ever experienced. While our middle class, which both parties claim to want to help, continues to deteriorate at an ever increasing pace, the rich continue to get richer. Whether people who call themselves conservatives realize it or not, they are supporting the continuation and acceleration of this cycle, and are likely to become victims of their own ideology themselves, unless they happen to be counted among the top one percent of Americans economically.
A statement that President Obama made yesterday morning at the annual prayer breakfast sums up how we as Americans and human beings should view our fellow citizens, especially those who are the most in need, “Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many nonbelievers. And they are values that have always made this country great; when we live up to them, when we don’t just give lip service to them, when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.”
While I do not advocate socialism, I do believe that to have a vibrant society, a government which represents all the people must provide social programs for those citizens who most need them. These programs should not just offer the bare minimum of physical sustenance, but provide a means to better both the individual and the family and thereby take them off the welfare rolls. A president must, and I underscore must, represent all the people: rich, middle class, and poor alike. Saying you don’t care about one group or another in any context is unconscionable.
Maybe it is time to rethink our version of capitalism. The 1980 version of it that conservatives are championing no longer applies in this 21st century global economy. This time let’s include everyone, not just the one percent.