I freely admit that before I lost my health insurance coverage I barely thought about it: I paid the bills, had my babies, had surgery, went to the doctor, and most of what I needed was covered by a very good policy. Until I lost it and found it nearly impossible to get coverage again. Now the coverage I get is barely half as good as what I had and I pay far more: I am also older and need more medications, some of which are wickedly expensive and not covered.
It also took my own sexual harassment and date rape to wake me up to the horrors of those issues.
Life is kind of like that. We don’t think about losing our job until unemployment hits us in the face, or losing our home until payments simply can’t be made. We don’t worry about grave illness until we bump up against it and have to maneuver the ins and outs of trying to get well. We worry about the day to day and convince ourselves, like Scarlett O’Hara, that tomorrow is another day.
From the comfort of our living rooms we can watch powerful white men discuss what is to be done with women’s bodies and we can believe that none of those decisions will affect us. We observe wealthy celebrities and their screwed-up lives and be sure that if we had that kind of money we would spend it wisely, or at least differently. We watch reality shows and breathe a sigh of relief that our children are not so messed up, that our houses aren’t full to the ceilings of garbage, and that we don’t behave that badly. And as we turn ourselves away from life and into someone else’s created world, it becomes easy to convince ourselves that the big decisions being made in our government, in the world, have no effect on our day-to-day existence. That what we really need is just a good job, a decent place to live, a happy relationship, and enough money to cushion our lives. For now. So, in truth, we will only confront those with so much less than us if we are actually forced to do so.
And, when forced, most of us do the right thing: We send checks off to disaster relief or the Red Cross. We donate clothes to hurricane victims. We hear about a story that moves us, like the school bus monitor who was horribly bullied, and out come our wallets and our kindness. If a child is dying of cancer and her parents can’t pay her medical bills, we slip a few coins into a jar on the counter at the convenience store. We contribute to bake sales and yard sales and clothing drives when people ask us directly for help.
But in the larger, national and global challenges that face us we shut down. Despite the fact that each year 32,000 women become pregnant by rape, it doesn’t seem to actually affect us if it isn’t a wife, a friend or a daughter. The poor in Africa tug harder at our hearts than the poor next door. We call our poor lazy and shiftless and complain about their televisions and their video games and their cell phones and don’t understand that the poor, like anyone else, need to cushion themselves from the horrors of the world. But unlike the uber-rich whose lives are so completely fashioned as to never ever come across a lower middle class or poor person — with their private jets and personal shoppers and gated communities and the staff who takes care of every single silly detail: Rhe kind of details that most of us have to take hours out of our lives to deal with — we do not condone a poor person buying a television on layaway or giving their children video games for Christmas because those people should be spending every single penny on food and clothing, cheap, second hand clothing at that. While all the while we bombard the poor with television shows and magazine spreads that illustrate the kinds of things they can’t even dream about.
We refuse to pay more taxes for good schools in our own states, while we give our churches money to build schools in the Middle East and Africa. We weep at the site of poor black children in another country, their eyes covered in flies, their tummies distended by famine; but we will walk quickly by a poor child of color on the street next to us. We will call those children’s parents freeloaders and drains on the system, and we will make efforts to cut food and medical aid to those poor because they should be doing more to help themselves.
I look at a man like Paul Ryan, poised to become the Vice President of the United States; I see him surround himself with his children, two of whom are girls, and I wonder: what if. What if. What if one of his daughters was brutally raped? Would he force her to bear the child? How would he feel if the rapist/father were to request visitation, which is allowed in 31 states? Would his dug-in stance waver, would the site of his daughter traumatized, her life as she knew it destroyed, make him rethink his unwavering fervor to force her to bear her rapist’s child? How about Todd Akin who so loves his daughters? Would an encounter with the real change his entrenched mind? Would it force to him to rethink his egregious medical information and go in search of some truth?
Were rich men like Romney and Ryan reduced to the kind of life that the huge majority of Americans live, would they dance to a different tune? Would the realization of how fragile life is when one has very little money sink in? Or is even imagining that scenario unthinkable?
Would either of them cry out in rage if their daughters were doing the same work as their sons and receiving far less pay? If their daughters could not get decent medical care? If their ill sons had their insurance cancelled? If anything that happens to millions of Americans each day happened to their children?
And what of the many middle-class white men (Romney’s support among blacks is zero percent) who so enthusiastically support the Republican ticket? Do they feel so beleaguered, so frightened of their imagined loss of power to women, minorities, the “other” whoever it is, that they cling to the fantasy that those rich men could be them one day, no matter how far-fetched? Are they holding fast and hard to Romney and Ryan because they are convinced those men are truly God-fearing, even if their God isn’t quite one they are all that familiar with? And the women? How to explain the women who hold fierce to the idea of a benevolent patriarchy, in the belief it will really take care of them?
Or are they all victims of a sort of Stockholm Syndrome? Held prisoner not by their captors, per se, but rather by their outdated, outmoded, unrealistic ideas, and those ideas so firmly held that they truly believe the oppressor is their savior?
All I know for sure is that, despite their rhetoric, neither Romney nor Ryan, nor a good part of the white Republicans who hold and wield power have any idea at all what it is like to live on the edge of disaster, even less idea what it means to depend on the kindness of strangers rather than the support of government.
Because government, no matter how evil to Romney and Ryan, is still an evil they wish to control. At, it seems, most any cost. They will gather up the winner’s purse and pull the purse-strings tight, letting go of them only when the already rich and powerful ask for yet another handout. Meanwhile, too many of us know too well how quickly events can upend our lives. We should be better about being less selfish with our resources and more cognizant of how important it is to think of others before ourselves: especially those others who live, coincidentally, right next door.
(This post was originally published on the Huffington Post)