Parents have this uncomfortable moment in their lives as their kids grow up when they know they’ll be forced to have “The Talk” with their prepubescent children about sex. They dance around the questions and hope the kids will just figure it out for themselves until the middle of the night comes and peaceful slumber is interrupted by nightmares of the consequences of their children’s ignorance. Fears of becoming a grandparent at 38 are sobering enough to make the most nervous parent suck it up, sit their kids down and do the dirty deed. Most times, the kids will laugh it off and claim they know everything already – but years later, as adults themselves, they will universally admit the one thing their parents taught them wasn’t about the mechanics of sex but the loving, committed relationship part they didn’t understand until they grew up.
As a writer, I have been talking to you for months now about the moral compass of our country, I’ve been dancing around my own life lessons with you. I’ve talked about our humanity, our souls, poverty envy or how we treat one another and inevitably there are readers out there who just miss the point. So I’m going to suck it up and have “The Talk” with America about our government and how it’s a critical part of our lives. Many will laugh and claim they know better and talk about how I got it all wrong, but I’m hoping beyond hope that maybe a few will permit my words to sink in and understand it’s about more than the Libertarian view of the Constitution or selected views of Conservatism based on religion. At its core, it has to be about the people. Ultimately, it has to be about the loving, committed relationship we must have with one another that makes us a cohesive family – that makes us Americans.
I just wasted 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back trying to have a discussion about economics with a Libertarian who worships Ron Paul. This guy believes that all Americans should “find” a plot of land, grow food, then eat the food and *poof!*, no more need of food stamps. Sounds good if you have access to land and live in an area where you can grow food year round. If you live in Minnesota, you pretty much die of starvation. If you live in the Projects in Chicago, screw you. But hey, one less drain on the government! He claimed education is a waste of time. Close all the public schools, no more funding of public universities and no more student loans. One less drain on the government! No more EPA that brought us clean air and clean water because we should “trust the market” to do the right thing for us. One less drain on the government! No one regulating airlines or highways or anything else because a toll booth at every street corner of the now privately owned streets is free enterprise and left to their own devices, airlines want to spend money out of their profits to keep us all safe. One less drain on the government! Essentially, he hates government so much, he wants to live in a dog-eat-dog, every man for himself, survival of the fittest America where humans create their own ecosystem and their own food chain. When his fantasy world comes true and we kill the federal government, and if you have the means to buy everything you need, great! If you’re poor at the moment we abolish government, then you die. It’s nature! See? I told you it was 20 minutes of my life I’d never get back.
When I was a young adult, on my way out the door, the saint who was more of a mother to me than my own mother would start in on me about driving safely, buckling my seatbelt, not driving under the influence, yadda, yadda, yadda… and the moment I would roll my eyes, she would stick a finger in my face and say, “If something happened to you because I didn’t remind you of these things, I couldn’t live with myself. I have to say it and you have to listen.” I laughed at that then, but now I know exactly what she was talking about. You see, I love you so much, I have to say it and you have to listen. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try to talk some sense into the American consciousness – so here goes…
We are not animals. The thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to think and to reason and to combine that with compassion and empathy. Human beings learned long ago they could accomplish more by working together than they could as individual nomads. We formed tribes. We worked together to progress. We evolved as a society. We came to rely on one another. Then came the Industrial Revolution and capitalism. Capitalism in and of itself is not evil. Pure capitalism is. We have been a nation that boomed when we worked together with a mix of capitalism and socialism. It was the socialist side of our nature that allowed us to build great things together like highways and bridges and schools and the infrastructure that ties us all together. It was the socialist side of our nature that made public education possible – a public education that created some of the greatest minds of our time – a public education that lifted a nation out of massive poverty and ignorance and into the space age. One man didn’t make it to the moon on his own. A nation interested in exploration and the thirst to know more created a space program that not only made us the country to conquer the moon, it just landed an entire geolabratory on Mars last week. Discovery is not evil and is not a waste of time. The thirst to know more is not a waste of time. Ignorance is not bliss.
And then of course, these same people will tell you anyone accepting government assistance is the cause of all our financial woes because when we feed a hungry man, he loses all desire to feed himself. It’s a particularly craven view of Americans and it’s not true. Americans are hard-wired to work. We want to work. We take pride from working. We take pride in having a job that pays us a living wage so we can support our families. But of course, the pure capitalist fans out there cry foul when I say that. Shipping our jobs overseas, trying to eliminate the minimum wage and cutting off social programs all at once is not even capitalism – it’s just mean.
American social programs were designed to address market shortcomings and do what private enterprises cannot or WILL NOT do themselves. That is THE key element in the importance of public assistance – from food stamps, to housing subsidies to education assistance. FDR and LBJ understood that pure capitalism creates greedy sonsabitches who have no interest in the general well being of human beings. The creation of social security or food stamps or student loans never had anything to do with redistribution of wealth or Socialism. It was all about defending the defenseless against the most viciously greedy and predatory element within our society – unbridled and unregulated capitalism. FDR and LBJ understood that pure capitalism would instinctively take and take with no capacity to give – and that’s where the government did what it was supposed to do in a Democracy that places people over profit – it placed regulations on the greedy corporations and put a social safety net in place for those who fell through the cracks.
This brings me to Willard Romney and his pick for V.P., Paul Ryan. This is a guy who is a devotee of Ayn Rand style philosophy that touts the will of the individual over society and applauds selfishness, considering it a ‘virtue’. The working stiff is a ‘parasite’ on society. Paul Ryan created a budget proposal based on that theory that has been warmly embraced by the GOP Presidential nominee who called the plan ‘brilliant’. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman called Ryan out about that economic theory because it does nothing to repair the deficit. It only makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. He said,
“… the pundits who praised this proposal when it was released were punked. The G.O.P. budget plan isn’t a good-faith effort to put America’s fiscal house in order; it’s voodoo economics, with an extra dose of fantasy, and a large helping of mean-spiritedness.”
It is the wish of a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the wish of another man who survived as a youth on the same social programs he’s hell bent to eliminate, now that he himself is wealthy, to kill off the parasites in this country. I should mention that his hero worship of Ayn Rand is amusing. She was an illegal alien, an Atheist, and she collected her Social Security checks that she was in no way entitled to as an illegal alien. But Paul Ryan and his TeaBagger friends and the Libertarians want to convince us this was the intention of the Founding Fathers. They never talk about what the Founding Mothers would have said about that.
My children, this is not how family treats one another. This is not how a civilized society treats one another. This is how larger, stronger animals in the wild prey on smaller, weaker animals in the wild. We are not animals. We cannot let them turn us into animals. I feel like we need to return to the basic things we learned in Kindergarten about how to get along and treat one another. In fact, in 1988, a Universalist minister by the name of Robert Fulghum captured the hearts of many when he wrote an essay entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. It’s a lesson that bears repeating:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned – the biggest
word of all – LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
It really does come down to that, doesn’t it? Which proves my point that corporations are not people, my friend. Corporations don’t cry when they’re in pain. They don’t get hungry. They don’t spend sleepless nights at the bedside of a sick child. They don’t mourn when a loved one passes. They don’t shiver against a cold wind when they have no home. They don’t fear dying of cancer because they can’t afford health insurance. Those are all things people do. People. American people.
I want to live in a country where we place the well being of our citizens over everything else. I want to live in a country where we can be proud to work together to build great things and educate our children to become great thinkers. I want to live in a country where we prize our citizens above profit. I want you all to go out there and hold hands and stick together.