Them That’s Got Shall Get

I try — earnestly, with good faith — to understand the Republican ideologies.

And I think I’ve figured out one of them: they want to make life harder for poor people so that they have more incentive to become rich, and they want to make life better for rich people to reward success, since it should be rewarded, and since doing so provides even more incentive for poor people to become rich.

If you look at it just the right way, you can see it’s not entirely wrong. If the government made material life pretty sweet for everybody, then some people wouldn’t bother to work to earn a living. I wouldn’t bother — I’d just make software and give it away for free.

If the government made life semi-sweet — well, anybody who wants the full sweet would want a job. But some people would be fine with semi-sweet, and they wouldn’t work.

I think that’s where Republicans stand: they think the government has made life semi-sweet, enough so that a bunch of people just take and don’t work. Republicans think: we need to give them an incentive to work.

This explains the health care bill: it takes from the poor, who need incentives to work, and gives to the wealthy, who need rewards for their success. (So the Republicans think.)

* * *

It’s as if the Republicans have no realistic conception of what it’s like to be poor. The choice isn’t between health care and an iPhone, as one Republican suggested — it’s between food and rent, or worse, and forget health care and iPhones entirely.

I was “poor” in my very early 20s. I put that in quotes because I was never in danger of starving or becoming homeless — my parents would have helped me. (They did plenty, in fact.)

But still, even this small experience gives me some insight. I remember buying generic macaroni and cheese because I literally didn’t have enough money for Kraft. And forget hot dogs. And forget vegetables.

I don’t mean that I had some money lying around that I’d put aside; I mean that I had a few dollars to last a week, and if I bought Kraft, which was a few dimes more, I would run out of money before the week was over.

(My bank had a $5 minimum balance for my account. I could withdraw as little as $5 — and in those days ATMs were free — but that would have meant having more than $10 in my account to get that $5. I got so angry because I had, as I recall, $6.91 but couldn’t get at it. I remember thinking that another $5 would change my life.)

I’m not complaining about this, or saying that I had things particularly tough. Not at all.

I’m saying that if you take that experience, and take away any possibility of help from family, and then stretch it out for years and decades — with the inevitable issues, health and otherwise, that happen to everybody — then you have a life where getting ahead is really, really difficult. I can’t imagine; I can only try.

But it’s no semi-sweet life. Not even close.

07 Mar 2017

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