On Politics

I was recently having a conversation on how my politics have changed in the last 10 years. Because they’ve changed.  A lot.

When I was younger if you had asked me how I felt about entitlements, or welfare, or vouchers, my answer would closely mimic the Republican party line. I didn’t identify with the Republicans – I believed too firmly in gay marriage and reproductive rights to align myself completely- but I agreed with the phrases “limited government”, “fiscal responsibility”, “low taxes”.
Then I had Violet.  During her 10 day stint in the NICU we needed tests that weren’t covered by insurance, we met with world renowned specialists, we lined up medicines and knew it would be hard and that we’d need help from our parents but the bills would be paid.In the next plastic crib over, there was a very young mother and her baby.  One night, I couldn’t help overhearing her talking to someone on the phone about what her treatment options were and what she could afford. She was crying. She didn’t know what to do.

It was then that my “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, accept responsibility for your life, get a job, and pay your bills” belief started to crumble.

My daughter was going to get top of the line care simply because she was lucky enough to be born to a family that could afford it.
I’m not a bleeding heart liberal (though my more right leaning friends say so) and I’m not a cold hearted conservative (despite what some of my more left leaning friends may think). Simply stated, I know that we aren’t all fortunate enough to be born with the same opportunities and I believe that we need public institutions and solutions. I hope for a world where that isn’t up for debate.
The education policies and reforms being put forward by our state government right now are a travesty. And I do not use that word lightly. We are gutting our public education system.  The licensing requirements for teachers are approaching those of the normal school era. We are making it next to impossible for our public universities to compete on a national (and global) scale. We’re threatening tenure and watching as amazing educators flee for more welcoming universities. We are smashing the rungs on the ladder out of poverty while protecting our richest citizens.  We are doing this at the same time we are making it harder for our poor to get the resources they need to survive.And the governor who is leading our state down this rabbit hole is planning a run for President.

 And leading in some polls.  

Someone told me the other day that I shouldn’t worry so much about this whole school thing. You send your kids to private school, anyway, so what’s the big deal? 

The big deal is that not every parent wants to send their child to a religious institution for a quality education. And they shouldn’t have to.

The big deal is that education is one of the surest stepping stones out of poverty and into the middle class.
The big deal is that the distribution of wealth in this country continues to become more and more uneven and our middle class continues to deteriorate.The big deal is we need a middle class.  We need educated individuals.  We need to make the American Dream more attainable not less.  I need to stop sounding like a third-rate Presidential candidate.  Anyway…

I saw this poem today on Facebook.  I’ve been a fan of Neil Hilborn for awhile now but something he says in this poem really resonates with me…

I am so lucky.

I wish we lived in a world where even those who weren’t so lucky were afforded things such as health care, food, and a quality education simply because that’s what we do.

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  • Oh my … that is such a powerful video, Kate … I've never before heard of Neil Hilborn, but my gosh he really nails it, doesn't he?

    This is such a brave and deep post you've written, and as a Canadian who spent 11 years living in the US, I could probably go on for hours! (I don't *really* need to clean the house today, do I?)

    Politics in the US are something, that's for sure! And the meanness and lack of compassion of the Republican party is something I have a very hard time stomaching. When Obamacare was floated, years ago, I was amazed by the polarizing nature of it, and by the fact that it was so political. It's healthcare, I naively thought. A basic human right, I naively thought. Nope. One rather heated (but polite) conversation with another mom at the soccer pitch was enough to tell me that healthcare was right up there with politics and religion: things that are too volatile to discuss.

    When my husband was offered a transfer back to Canada four years ago, I have to say that healthcare was in there, amongst our list of pros and cons, should we stay or should we go… We had access to wonderful care in the US, through my husband's plan, but it always struck me as wrong that it wasn't universal, and that we only got the care because he had a good job and an employer who provided those benefits. I had heard enough stories about people who didn't have health care to worry that even if Obamacare passed and universal care became the norm, that that might not be something that stayed, that it could easily be something that could be repealed by future governments. And as Canadians, that wasn't something we wanted our children to have to face in their adult lives. Healthcare in Canada may not be perfect (is anything?) but it is at least a universal system that provides the basics of care to everyone. Are there abuses? Sure. I saw that in my work as a pharmacist. And we, as Canadians, may complain about the abuses, but I like to think we would never be so hard-hearted to toss the whole thing because a few may abuse the system. In general, we as Canadians tend to be a more pragmatic and slightly less pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps bunch…we (grudgingly) accept higher taxes because we more-or-less accept that our higher taxes are going to services we all need and benefit from. That being said, my 16 year-old son is fond of telling me he'd like to move to Norway or Finland, where they apparently *really* have their act together.

    I think you might enjoy reading an essay written by Dale McGowan of Parenting Beyond Belief: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/index.php?s=invisible+knapsacks in which he talks a bit about "invisible knapsacks" (unfortunately, the original essay he links to in his post no longer works) – basically, it's the idea that we all have these invisible knapsacks, filled – or not! – with advantages that get us through life, but that we don't really stop to recognize as advantages. It's a very thought-provoking concept…

    There is a certain meanness to the Republican party that I personally can't stomach.

    • I think there is a certain meanness to both parties right now. Perhaps I see it that way because I'm not left enough or right enough for either party to agree with me so I tend to hear it from both sides but I'd say the polarity in the country is extremely disheartening right now. Instead of sitting down and respectfully disagreeing and finding common ground, we seem to be ruled by a set of extremes that are only interested in vilifying the other side.

      I don't, personally, think that health care is a basic human right. I don't think Social Security or Medicaid are either. In fact there are a lot of things our government provides that I don't think are RIGHTS per se, but I believe that as a society we can collectively say, "I think quality health care, strong education, good roads, and healthy food should have universal access."

      i'm looking forward to reading that essay! Thank you for you sharing it (and your thoughts) with me!

  • The state of political discourse right now is so hard for me I've mostly decided to opt out of it. I think I'm not alone. Working in education for more than 20 years has absolutely formed my political beliefs. As has having a profoundly autistic brother. It's statistically quite rare for someone to pull themselves up into a higher social class than he or she was born into, and there are lots of reasons why. I've gotten to see so many of them first-hand. I do not think the gutting of public education is unintentional. And I think our country is a much meaner place than it was when I was growing up. My dad was a Republican, and my mom was a Democrat. One set of my grandparents had a similarly divided marriage. I learned early and by example that the two parties had much more in common than divided them, but we seem to have lost all sight of that.

    • I don't have a doubt that you are right when you say that the gutting of education has been unintentional. Wisconsin's Republican governors have never been very kind to education but I can say that under Scott Walker and this legislature we've seen the worst "reform" imaginable. What angers me more than anything (and what prompted me writing this) is of the people I know who support him (not a very scientific poll, but…) don't even know that we are giving deductions for private school tuition or that when children leave the public school for a voucher school they are actually taking more funding with them than they would have received had they stayed in the public system. They look at his "union busting" and clap him on the back for lowering the salaries and benefits of middle class teachers while at the same time we are giving tax credits to big business and millionaires.

      I need to follow your lead and opt out. Just thinking about it gets my blood pressure up.