Monday, August 30, 2010

On Entitlement and Dependency

If a Wisconsinite were to look at Ron Johnson, Russ Feingold's Senate opponent this year, based solely on his ads and website, one wouldn't learn much of anything about him. He seems to play the campaign on the basis of 'the less people know about me, the better'.

One must learn about him by his live appearances at campaign stops. And if his strategy is in fact 'the less people know about me, the better', it is a wise one. It has, for one, as previously reported, forced Feingold into making blind stabs at what he thinks Johnson's record might be, allowing Johnson to later attack Feingold for distorting his record when he turns out to be wrong.

When one does see Johnson in action, he turns out to be exactly the Tea Partier he is billed as being. I want to focus on this article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The piece details a pair of recent campaign stops in Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield, in which he, among other things, refers to the health care reform law passed earlier this year as "the greatest single assault on our freedom in our lifetime." He is 55 years old, and since he has yet to reveal a specific birthdate, we can best assume that he was born in 1955. A lifetime that has included the Cuban Missile Crisis and 9/11, which makes healthcare reform legislation pale in comparison. Add in Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and something Vietnam-related if you want to as well. You get the point.

There's also this passage:

Conservatives, he said, just want to be left alone. "The problem is (liberals) are not leaving us alone," he told supporters. "They haven't left us alone. They are threatening our freedom."

This from a party that has sent Jan Brewer into superstar status for signing an immigration law that, whatever they may claim as intent, is pretty much designed to not leave Hispanics alone. This from a party that brought us warrantless wiretaps, "free speech zones", and "enhanced interrogation techniques", among other things. So that's a patently ridiculous claim as well.

But neither of those were the part of the article that really popped me between the eyes. That honor went to paragraphs three and four, right at the top of the piece.

At campaign stops on Friday before groups at a Wisconsin Rapids restaurant and later at the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Johnson said he sees a society that is lurching toward a culture of entitlement dependency.

"People are saying, 'That's my right, give it to me.' That's not the America I recognize. I think we're losing America. That's what's at stake in this election."

Damn straight America is a culture of entitlement dependency.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Let's hit the 'entitlement' part of it first. Yes, Americans, as individuals, should be doing their level best to work for what they get in life. But there are things in life that one should not have to work for, that one should in fact feel 'entitled' to. A decent home. A decent education. A loving family, whatever its makeup. A job, should they wish to have one. A long and healthy life. Not having to put oneself in the poorhouse to get that health. A voice in their government. Government officials who can ably and ethically do their job. Safety and security. The ability to travel abroad without having to stick a maple leaf sticker on their luggage so they don't get beat up or mugged. (By the way, they can see right through that.)

These, among others, are things that every American has every right to feel 'entitled' to, that no American should have to earn. These are things every American should be able to simply start out with, and then be able to earn whatever they get past that. If that's entitlement, I'm all for it. One should not expect everything in life to fall into their lap. But one should be able to expect a starter set of amenities such as these.

As for 'dependency', Mr. Johnson.

Dependency is not something to be taken lightly. Dependency is not something to be derided. Dependency is one of the most critical characteristics of not just Americans, but all of humanity. You may have heard someone say, at some point, that when things are at their worst, humanity is often at its best. This saying celebrates those who simply refuse to let anyone fall through the cracks if they have anything to say about it. When the earthquake has struck, when the flood waters are rising, when the building is coming down, when someone is living in quiet desperation every day of their lives, there is someone out there that will do everything in their power, lay their jobs, their bodies, their lives on the line to find these people, hold out their hand, and help as many of them as possible back to their feet.

What would happen to these souls if they did not have these people rushing to their aid? They would simply be left to their miserable fate. And any help that arrives knows it. That help also knows that if, one day, they should be so unfortunate, they would hope someone else in turn comes to their aid.

If we have no other redeeming qualities as a species, we at least have that. We have support structures, haphazard as they may sometimes be.

My brother recently lost his job. He is of course looking (and looking, and looking), but in the meantime, unemployment notwithstanding, he is dependent on friends and family to help him through. An extra set of eyes to catch that extra job opening he may have missed. People to watch his baby nephew while he's out of the house looking (or for any other purpose). The odd bit of financial support (because just because the paychecks stop coming doesn't mean the bills do). Lord knows where he'd be if it weren't for people he knew he could depend on. I don't even want to think about it.

And if the same thing were to happen to me, I know that, should I need it, he and they would be there for me as well.

And as for dependency not being the America you recognize, let me tell you that if it weren't for dependency, America never would have come into existence in the first place.

Flashback to the Declaration of Independence. The signers of that document knew that, by affixing their names, they would be committing treason against the British crown. They had a wide variety of backgrounds- some richer than others, with different lifestyles and viewpoints and background and lineages, but every one of them was risking everything they had by putting their name to the parchment and allowing King George III to know exactly who was to be arrested. And yet, 56 people did so, depending on each other for backup. One man, Charles Carroll, wrote his hometown by his name, reading 'Charles Carroll of Carrollton.' (He had always signed his name like that, but still.)

As Ben Franklin said on that occasion, "We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

And then there is the very job for which you apply. Congress is supposed to be there for when things get to be too much for a friends-and-family support structure, even an entire community. Congress is there, through high-profile legislation as well as low-profile casework, for when someone needs nothing less than the full power of their country to rescue them from some wretched fate. When people mockingly use the phrase "I'm from the government and I'm here to help", they are mocking the government's all-too-frequent failure in that task. They don't want to have to mock it. So many people have been voted in and out of office for their success or failure in doing so. Ron Paul is untouchable in his district because of his full understanding of this concept; a realization that, whatever his votes, he is supposed to be there to help. He knows his constituents depend on him when they need help finding work, finding housing, finding lost war medals. Kissing babies? He'll deliver them.

Whether you realize it or not, this is what you ask of the people of Wisconsin. You ask them to depend on you. You ask them to count on you when the chips are down. You ask them to trust that, when they fall, you, Ron Johnson, will be there to pick them back up.

If you do not understand that basic concept, if you are seemingly campaigning on the concept of leaving our most in need to suffer, how are you possibly qualified for this job?

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