November 18, 2005

I Want My America Back Too

As if providing more grist for the mill weren't bad enough...

By James Moore

As congress busied itself last night with cutting programs to the poor to pay for more war and Bush tax benefits for the wealthy, I found myself thinking yet again about the America where I grew up. In spite of our differences in years, our current president and I were coming of age in a nation thriving with prosperity and optimism.

Mr. Bush's father went out to West Texas with a $500,000 grubstake in his pocket from his father the US senator and built and oil company. My dad, home from the same war, had failed miserably trying to grow cotton on someone else's farm in the Mississippi River bottomland in Arkansas. He gave up and went north to the car factories of Michigan. My mother, who was an immigrant, thought that marrying the handsome American in the uniform meant she was bound for Dixie and a life of sipping mint tea on a veranda. Most of what she knew about America had come from the movie "Gone With the Wind." Instead, she found herself crowded into a shack with her in-laws and she spent nights staring at the southern moon passing between the wall and ceiling slats.

A big man, daddy quickly got a job on an assembly line in Flint, Michigan lifting bumpers out of a metal press and stacking them on wooden pallets. Although she already had three children, Ma went to work as a waitress at one of the short order restaurants surrounding the automobile manufacturing complexes. Their tenth and eighth grade educations did not provide them with much more potential. They worked until they could not stand. Eventually, the needs of their six children for food, health care, clothes, and an education far outstripped their ability to provide. Things got worse when daddy endured several years of hospitalization. Ma, though, never gave up in those years and continued carrying hamburgers and open-faced sandwiches to the tables of laborers who left her nickel tips to supplement her $60 a week paycheck.

Fortunately, I was living in an America that realized there might be as much potential in my future as there existed in the son of the oilman out in the desert of West Texas. My country, my government, filled in the spaces that were left empty when my parents' efforts fell short. While George W. was honing his irresponsibility in West Texas in advance of leaving for prep school in the east, my brother and sisters and I were turning to the government to get us food, education, and health care. It's not what my parents wanted; nor did we. We were ashamed. But had no choice. Eventually, though, I got to attend a university because my country offered Basic Educational Opportunity Grants and National Defense Student Loans to those who qualified. And not a minute of any day passes where I am not thankful for where I was born and the fellow citizens of my country who gave me such an opportunity. The fact that I ended up being the author of books and journalism critical of a president trying to take away similar programs from a new generation also seems to me somehow distinctly American.

Last night, 220,000 people were cut from the Food Stamp program. And Democrats considered that an accomplishment. States will now be asked to seek co-payments from Medicaid beneficiaries to supplement a shortfall of federal funding, and congress wants to cut funding for state programs aimed at child support enforcement. No one even seemed particularly disturbed when they debated taking 40,000 children off of the student lunch program at the same time their parents were being dropped from Food Stamp rolls.

The context for all of this goes unnoticed. While we hand out no-bid contracts to Halliburton for billions of dollars we are trimming the budget in the Spaghetti-Os of impoverished children. Food Stamp recipients are being forced to pay for the president's latest $50 billion in tax cuts. Medicaid patients have no choice over a co-pay that will help our president and our congress pay for the current war without end. One estimate I read indicated that the first round of funding for the Iraqi invasion, which was $84 billion dollars, was enough to pay for full health care for every man, woman, and child in America for one year; no deductions, no co-pays. We are not just wasting lives in those ancient deserts.

Capitalism is not a perfect system. Effort does not always produce results. Some of us fail, regardless of how hard we try. The question for our country is whether we ignore the people who have fallen into the ditch or do we stop and give them a hand. And do we turn our backs on their children even though they had nothing to do with the circumstances in which they find themselves? And what do we lose if we walk away from them? There is no way to measure unlived lives or unrealized potential.

I want my America back.

Me too James. Me too.


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