Nearly two years ago I received a phone call. It was from a formerly homeless friend of mine. He was a Vietnam vet and a recovering alcoholic who was just starting to get his life together after a series of health problems forced him to sober up. I had been working with him on a project of mine, a short documentary film about his life, homelessness, battle with drugs and alcohol and interest in writing. Bill was an interesting guy, outgoing, intelligent and fun. I was expecting his call, however it was immediately obvious that he was shook up.
His voice wavered as he said to me: "Bill, Tom is dead".
Tom was Bill's best friend. A skinny whisper of a man who, like his friend, was a military veteran and a bad alcoholic. Unlike Bill, Tom was quiet, meek, and spoke so softly that you could barely understand him. I always looked at Tom with sadness, he seemed to have given up on life. He walked around spiritless and defeated. But he was a sweet guy, the kind of person who appreciated an act of kindness. I could see him brighten slightly when I'd give him a few dollars, or when I'd give him some cookies or whatever other food I had made. He sometimes would tell a funny story, like how he once lost his hat for a few days and when he found it and put it on a cute baby gopher came crawling down his head and over his face.
But now Tom was dead.
Found by his best friend, lying homeless and broken. He was literally in the dirt. He literally had to sleep and wallow near his own urine and feces. He may have frozen in the night, he could have had some other ailment, maybe he drank himself to death, or he maybe just totally gave up on life. But he was dead. That was for certain. A United States citizen who served his country in the military, died alone and penniless, while lying in the dirt. Let that sink in for a moment. Could you imagine dying that way? Could you imagine any of your closest loved ones living a life like that, dying in the dirt?
He deserved better.
I am under no delusions. Homeless people are often homeless for a reason. They have problems. Mental illnesses. Drug and alcohol addictions. Lack of personal responsibility. But all too many slip through the cracks. Certainly we can do better. And certainly we can watch out for the people who serve this country in uniform a little better too. They are more than campaign props and applause lines in a stump speech.
Which brings me to this. Several years ago, Senator Barack Obama introduced the "Homes For Heroes Act" in the Senate. This bill would help provide housing for low-income veterans, alleviating at least some of the problem. But it didn't last long in the Senate. In fact, virtually anything that would help low-income people or veterans doesn't last too long in the Senate. Why? Because Republicans kill almost anything that doesn't help their base, the incredibly wealthy. They have consistently killed bills that would help veterans with medical care, treatment for mental illnesses and PTSD disorders. They even stanched a 2006 amendment by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed that would have purchased much needed equipment for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan because it would have been paid for by rolling back capital gains tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
Here is what I'm getting at.
These are only two basic issues. People who are low-income and veterans. Or in my late friend, Tom's case, somebody who is both. But it's like this across the board. The Republican Party doesn't care. They don't have any solutions nor do they really care to have any. The only policy ideas you'll see from them are the same ones they've had for decades and those have been disastrous, tax cuts for the wealthy and more deregulation so that their uber-rich buddies can trample all over us with no constraints. The best you'll get from Republicans is they'll probably work to dismantle Social Security and Medicare over the next few years and they'll likely fail because nobody in their right mind wants that to happen.
As flawed as the Democratic Party and President Obama might be, they at least, get it a little bit. President Obama and the Democrats worked to get health care a little more affordable and available to more Americans. Imperfect, but they tried. And the Republican Party sided with the insurance industry and fought them the whole way. The president and his party fought for financial reform, in the wake of the biggest financial crisis our country has seen since the Great Depression. Again, imperfect, but it's a start. Meanwhile Republicans sided with Wall Street and fought them the whole way. The president and his party passed a stimulus that created and saved jobs and stopped us from going into a depression. Imperfect, again, but they tried. Republicans fought them the whole way and offered a solution with the Demint amendment that would have cost over three times as much and assuredly caused a depression. The president and the Democratic Party worked to save the auto industry and from the looks of it they did. Republicans fought them the whole way. They fought for student loan reform, eliminating private banks as a middleman and saving the United States taxpayer 68 billion over the next 11 years. Republicans fought them the whole way.
This is a paradigm. An archetype. A pattern. Democrats are, by and large, for YOU and Republicans are NOT. There is a reason why every Democratic president has had better job creation and economic growth than every Republican president. There is a reason why under Bill Clinton the number of children in poverty declined 24.2% and why under George W. Bush it increased by 21.4%. There is a reason why Barack Obama created more net jobs in one year than Bush did in eight. And on and on and on.
I hate sounding like this, but Democrats believe we can be better. They look forward. Republicans are cynical. They believe we are going down the tubes. They are negative and judgmental and they want to take us backward. They believe in short-term thinking and never consider the long-term. They don't believe we can be better because they basically believe we are all flawed. That is unless you are a wealthy corporation or individual. Then they believe that you should have the freedom to run roughshod over everyone else. If not, well then you are a sinner. You lack moral values. You need to fear everything around you. Fear The Gays. Fear The Brown People. Fear The Kenyan Socialist. It never ends.
And you know what voting Republican is going to get you?
It will get you a potential war with Iran. More useless tax cuts for the wealthy. Possibly another depression. A bigger deficit. It will put Americans against other Americans. People will be encouraged to have hatred and anger towards Hispanics and the LGBT community. You will get a presidency under siege. The stated number one Republican priority is to not help the American people. It isn't to get you better health care, better jobs, better schools and opportunities for your children. It's to destroy the president. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell even said it in a recent interview. They want Obama to be a one-termer and they are willing to sacrifice the country along the way. They will spend millions and millions of your money to frivolously investigate and then attempt to impeach him if they can. These next few years will be regarded as a disaster. A dark spot in our proud history.
See I believe in America. I believe that we can accomplish anything. That we can be a positive force for good in the world. That we can have the best health care, the best education, the best opportunities for jobs and otherwise. I believe we can be good stewards of the earth, that we can make this country and the world a better place for each and every person who lives here. Yes we can. You remember that? It's not just a slogan, it's the truth.