It is not in the nature of man to escape danger and then abandon fellow humans who face the same danger. We see examples in every war of courageous self sacrifice to rescue fellow soldiers. We often see firefighters or police officers risk their own safety to help others. The idea works well at an individual level – but as a function of society the idea falls short. People seem to rescue themselves from the pit of despair and then pull up the ladder, abandoning others to a life of hopelessness.
I am a child of the baby boom. In 1968 the Viet Cong initiated the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Three hundred American soldiers were dying every week. It was during the Tet Offensive that I celebrated my eighteenth birthday – and registered for the draft. By 1968 the Vietnam war had soured in the collective conscience of America. Many young men around my age did not want to die in a war of futility. Anything to avoid the draft seemed only logical. The most obvious and palatable solution was to go to college and maintain an education deferment. The ranks of college students grew on the backs of government grants and government sponsored student loans. College students took food stamps and government sponsored health care in the form of medicaid.
One consequence of this draft avoiding effort was that many received an education, found good paying jobs, and prospered while participating in the American Dream. A decade later these same college draft dodgers joined the Republican Party, elected Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The Conservative domination of American politics came to fruition. These same people who were given an economic boost with government sponsored education turned their backs on the next generation. They are happy to send other people’s children to war. They vote against any legislation that supports the same programs that helped them. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are two of these people (except that their wealthy families helped with influential draft deferments) – they got theirs and now want to deny any benefit to others. They pulled up the ladder.
This same mentality is dominating the “Conservatives” of 2012 – with some noteworthy exceptions. I retired from a lucrative career twelve years ago. I have since dedicated my life to pursuits of self-actualization. I read, I write, and I volunteer in the front line army against poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, and other atrocities of modern society. I even worked professionally for over three years in a community mental health clinic. While there is some local support for efforts to combat these issues – most of the financing comes from either the State of Missouri or the Federal Government. One of the great pleasures of my life has been watching people pull themselves up, with government assistance, to respectful productive lives. I have seen people recover from drug addiction. I have seen homeless people become productive citizens. Many receive housing assistance, food stamps, utility assistance, and receive assistance from local food pantries.
Many of these people did not receive a good elementary or secondary education. They are relegated to jobs of less than fifteen dollars per hour. But they work and earn their way as well as possible. They pay their bills. They raise their children. They participate at their children’s schools. They vote. Many go to church. Many continue to receive supplemental assistance. Many continue to receive food stamps, medicaid sponsored health care, housing assistance, and benefit from public education of their children. And sadly – many have joined the Conservative Revolution – they pulled up the ladder.
I know these people personally – I call them friends. It is with great sadness that I watch many of these people assault any government program. I struggle to understand what happened. I know these people as kind and caring people. It seems many have adopted an attitude of: I got mine – so screw you!
While most of the people I am referring to are very intelligent, they fail to connect the dots of our social construct. While intelligent, they lack higher education. Many are prejudiced against education. A common refrain: “A bunch of educated idiots.” Most of the people I am referring to have found hope in a spiritual awakening. My fear is that they have confused organized religion for spirituality. They listen to the fear-mongers of low-brow self appointed ministers of false Christianity.
I fear that many people are catering to bumper-sticker philosophy – simplistic ideas reduced to a few words of clever propaganda. Somehow these people, people who claim the love of Jesus, advocate the bombing of other nations, advocate arming the populace with the latest military firearm technology, advocate the denial of health care to others, advocate the denial of subsidized school lunches, advocate the denial of basic human dignity to impoverished children.
While they took loads of government assistance to pull them out of the hole of despair they choose to deny that same assistance to the next person. My notion is that they have not thought this through. They have not connected the dots. They have joined the Tea Party. Government programs have lifted many from the depths of despair to the solid ground of respectful lives – but they do not seem to make the connection to what they themselves benefited from and what they politically advocate.
Winston Churchill was a progressive liberal of the early 20th Century. He was also one of the greatest military defenders of democracy against the tyranny of Hitler and Stalin. On the issue of government sponsored health care Churchill said, “We must remove this issue from the shifting sands of charity to the firm bedrock of law.”
I challenge each of our readers to look closely at your life. Have you benefited from programs that you now deny to others? Have you pulled up the ladder – denying the help you received to the next guy?