We all do better when we all do better
That observation from the late Senator Paul Wellstone has long struck me as one of the simplest yet powerful statements of what a progressive and intelligent society should aspire to as anything I've ever read.
Why then, is this expression of the most basic of human decencies nonetheless such a contentious issue? Why are so many on the right so insistent that we give less to those in need? Why do we continue to ignore the complexities and inter-dependencies of the 21st century and instead treat every public challenge as if it can be resolved using the limited thinking and problem-solving skills of the late 1700s?
It's all fine and well to have a philosophy and belief system of effort and reward. Truth be told, however, many of those revered in some quarters don't exactly meet the criteria for "just rewards." But I digress....
It's also easy to denigrate and dismiss the less fortunate when you aren't one of them (not that that says much about character or integrity). That tactic--observed far too often from far too many who should (and likely do) know better--does cut down on thinking time and concerns about consequences. Lessens the immediate impact of being held responsible, too.
What state of mind is required to assume all those less fortunate than the top few percent of the wealthy in this country are in need because they are unmotivated; or not ambitious enough; or they don't work hard enough, or they just simply aren't deserving?
Of course there are examples of those who abuse the system! Using a broad brush to paint "the other side" as bearing those same character traits and motivations does save thinking time, but if that's the reward, it's not much.
Have any of these integrity-and character-challenged bomb throwers ever bothered to look at the statistics? Have they ever considered that someone losing a job or struggling financially because a business owner sees more profit relocating his or her company elsewhere; or are parents whose eight-year-old is battling leukemia; or is an individual whose spouse was struck by a drunk driver, or perhaps a family whose home and possessions are lost to a tornado, are not actually to "blame" for the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves?
Might some policies and practices implemented sometime in the not-too-distant past might not have actually played out in the real world as ideologies envisioned (and/or as critics warned)?
This is all part of an ethos and morality and value-system we're supposed to cherish and perpetuate?
Wouldn't we all be better off if some of the fortunate few recognized they were some of the fortunate few, and not actually immune from the unexpected? Real life happens to conservatives and tea-partiers, too.
When those struggling valiantly (or not) in the midst of economic conditions affecting almost all of us cannot make their own contributions to society--grand ones or not; when they cannot provide for even the basics to sustain themselves and their families; and when those oppressive realities linger for months and years, the effects ripple out beyond the individual and immediate family.
We may not see or feel it today or tomorrow, but we all lose something intangible but no less vital to community well-being when the divide widens and deepens between the few haves and so many more who are not so blessed.
As Robert Reich recently noted:
Unequal political power is the endgame of widening inequality -- its most noxious and nefarious consequence, and the most fundamental threat to our democracy. Big money has now all but engulfed Washington and many state capitals -- drowning out the voices of average Americans, filling the campaign chests of candidates who will do their bidding, financing attacks on organized labor, and bankrolling a vast empire of right-wing think-tanks and publicists that fill the airwaves with half-truths and distortions.
One is always free to ignore consequences or deny responsibility for actions encouraged and for policies supported. That's a choice. But it might be wise for those who cling to a distorted morality and ideology to consider that the choice to dismiss consequences does not prevent reality from intruding into that happy place.