I spent last week with my nearly-90-year old mother who, though she has her mind, is addled by mild stroke damage and increasing fragility. A woman of essentially no means, my mom spent her life making ends meet, if barely. Thanks to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and support from my brother, Mom has a small room in a modest assisted living facility, where she’s resided for four and a half years.
My mother and father paid into these programs throughout their lives, working class heroes who managed to feed, clothe, and house three kids. My dad died years ago, leaving my mother to fend for herself as she aged. Without drawing from these social insurance programs, my mother would be destitute.
Mom has been a rabid right-wing Republican since John Kennedy was assassinated.
As we have struggled to navigate my mother’s ongoing needs in her advanced age, my brother and I have wondered for years how people like Mom could rail against “socialism” while they contributed to and benefited from the ingenious communal safety nets designed specifically to guarantee all Americans a dignified retirement and then to prevent elderly Americans from dying in poverty.
Now Mitt Romney has cast his disdainful glance at my mother’s cohort, the last remaining demographic in which he holds a slim lead over President Obama. Does my mother “fail to take personal responsibility or care for her life”? Oh, I might argue that she could have saved more money when she was working, or that she could be nicer to the beleaguered physical therapists who try to coerce her to exercise. But is she to blame for being old and dependent on government programs intended to help her through this very time of life? Does she deserve Mitt Romney’s ignorant scorn?
I might rephrase Romney’s callous comment this way: Where are my mother’s fucking bootstraps? She is tarnishing the cherished American ideal of rugged individualism, darn it. Mom’s a moocher!
Or I might respond like this: I want to live in a country where we devote our tax money protecting the most vulnerable, providing healthcare to everyone, offering education to every child and university to every young person, investing in a skilled workforce and improving our infrastructure, making sure no one goes hungry, and taking care of the air and water. I’d rather our money be spent on making life livable for everyone, than on making war on others.
That’s not creating dependency, Mr. Romney. That’s love.