Friday, January 21, 2011

If a Man Doesn't Work, He Shouldn't Be Fed At Someone's Expense

Starting in about 1989 when I left for college, my very conservative Grandfather (may he rest in peace) began writing me letters on a regular basis. They were a mixed blessing. He was full of support for my goals, my happiness, and my very essence. No one could ask for a more personally doting grandpa. However, each letter also contained, "The Political Paragraph." He was certain that I would be perfected if one tiny detail changed: my politics would move from left to right.

This excerpt represents one attempt to convince me in 2000:

I know you will “get smart” and that will be when you get a few big paychecks and begin to wonder why so much is taken out? It will then and only then register: You are the one in the old cliché about who pulls the wagon and who gets a free ride IN the wagon as the liberals need to survive. Keep as many voters in constant poverty so they’ll keep voting liberal Democrat to get what they are depending on rather than getting a job like what you are doing. There’s more and more people riding in the wagon and less to pull it. Like I always say, THE WORLD IS MADE UP OF WILLING WORKERS—SOME WILLING TO WORK AND OTHERS WILLING TO LET THEM. Follow?? If only you would listen to Rush Limbaugh!! You’ll have you eyes opened when you find out how much you are paying out for liberal Democrats to spend in order to get the votes and stay in power versus the mean spirited Republicans who are going to the elect the next President of the United States. Wanna bet?? It’s a good think we have all of these rich Republicans around as it leads to this: You wouldn’t be asking a man on welfare for a job, would you? If a man doesn't work, he shouldn't be fed at someone's expense!

He wasn't a particularly good listener in the face of information that conflicted with his views, but one could write him letters. So I did. I tried to explain that there were a series of facts that meant my politics were never going to change, and if he had any dignity, he would immediately reexamine his own. Here's why:

I grew up on welfare. Yes, that's right. My conservative grandpa's own daughter was a long-term welfare recipient, as were her six children by extension. Why? She was seriously mentally ill, and so was her husband, with schizophrenia. They would work at times when they could, but we were only eating at someone else's expense. Having grown up poor in America, I knew that every stereotype about welfare was wrong. More importantly, the impact of poverty on my childhood, and the fact that it led to a stay in foster care, had led me to professionally study poverty all the way to the doctoral level. I knew every correlate, every causal factor, and the lived experience only made the scholarly information alive and real.

Every right wing talking point harms the poor, and the suffering experienced by our nuclear family in poverty would take a book to express. The lies hurt people, and I am one of them. For example, earlier today the Heartland Institute was quoted as saying that the safety net in the U.S. is effective, at least for the poor. When I was 8 years old, I had an untreated, exceptionally painful ear infection that led to hearing loss. This was during the timeframe when my parents were working, but had no benefits and could not afford health care. As a poor person who went to our local free clinic for the care of a seriously infected ingrown toenail when I was 12, I can attest to how our country allows health care for the poor to be substandard or nonexistent. The doctor was cutting off my toenail, BUT he barely used any numbing agent. When I was screaming during the process, my mom asked the doctor to give me another shot for pain before he kept cutting it off. Instead, he said, "Look, you're getting free care. We can't afford to numb it like you were paying." Seriously.

It turns out that if you nurture people rather than try to choke the programs that serve them, they grow up to accomplish things like starting their own business. Now, my right wing grandpa started a business, and unfortunately it did not succeed. This means he would have been wholly incapable of providing for his daughter and her family PER his principles of family taking responsibility. He relied on the government to step up and take care of his daughter without ever demanding that he replace the welfare payments with his own income.

He ended up becoming elderly in a state of pennilessness. He was saved by a program he had lambasted for years--Social Security. Eventually, when he lived to 90 years old, he had to admit that the 25 years he spent collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits more than made up for the money he paid in. He never answered me when I asked him if he appreciated being fed during the unproductive years. I know that I appreciated being fed during my vulnerable years. And it turns out, I am pulling the wagon, voting Democrat, and realizing that in a civil society, we all take turns pulling and riding depending on our stage of life.

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