On Wednesday I was able to steel myself enough to watch the third presidential debate (I wasn't drunk enough for the second one) and try to remain as calm and irrational as possible. Though a self described liberal, I tried to look at the debate as impartially as possible; to see a rookie politician with thin experience, a hopeful outlook that even I sometimes give the skepty eye to, and a terrible fumble on FISA. To see a celebrated hero who, while I don't agree with much of his politics, has great good during a 26 year career and has more than enough intelligence and insight to show for it. That is the way I tried to approach the debate. To not see Obama's discipline spill over into not attacking when he should. To not see a Republican who would candidly lie about the color of the sky if he could get his vapid VP pick to make it go down easier with a wink and a smile.
And I did.
Until they started talking about the economy.
I tried not to chuckle to myself as McCain, a man who said himself that he doesn't know much about the economy, tried to insert himself as an authority. I tried not to get irritated as he took it upon himself to tell Barack how his conversation with Joe the Plumber (no one ever say 'Joe the Plumber' again) went, and I even managed to swallow most of my anger at Obama, ever professorial, refusing to once and for all get him to just shut up. (Yes I am aware that he must, at all times, avoid coming off like the angry black man, but a nice, articulate, slightly stinging rebuttal would have even gotten my sugar back down and you KNOW black folk don't play about their sugar.)
But I simple couldn't contain myself a moment longer when John McCain called Obama a socialist.
Before I get to that, let's address the fallacy I saw at this point in Obama. Quite simply, he faltered. Where he could have been swift and concise in his denial and subsequent explanation of his plans and what they actually mean, he looked like a deer caught in headlights and painted himself a modern day Robin Hood in asserting beliefs in "spreading wealth around", thus giving substance to an otherwise incredulous idea.
Saying Barack Obama is a socialist is quite an extreme overstatement, the type of which I am thoroughly sick of in this election season from BOTH sides. It is quite obviously an attempt to paint Barack as elitist, unAmerican, and out of touch, attacks from the McCain campaign that, try as they might, have not picked up traction no matter how they present it, how many times they say it, or how badly they believe it. I will consider this the more egregious of those attempts.
Socialism is generally defined as;
a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
Of course in the Republican attack machine they choose to focus on the less known, Marxist form;
in Marxist theory the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.
I believe, despite being a staunch supporter of Senator Obama, that anyone who has listened to his plans with a critical ear, doesn't see a present day Communist though I am certain that's what he's being called in some less informed (read: bigoted) circles.
As someone who has studied all the claims of both candidates, as I believe every voter should do no matter what their party affiliation, I find the claim to be outrageous and indicative of the despicable McCain campaign the last few weeks (unlike some, I believe that up until his appointment of Sarah Palin, he ran a fairly, while albeit not wholly, admirable and above the board campaign. But I guess that doesn't quite rile the base like a good ol' condescending speech mocking someones life's work). Barack's proposal, while certainly not as simplistic as he tries to state it, is raising taxes 3% on those making $250,000 or more a year. (Read the whole thing here.)
Just as a side note Senator McCain, by your 13 houses and 9 cars standards, $250,000 might not make you "rich" as you so condescendingly kept reiterating while Senator Obama was trying to speak, but if you ask a single mother, or a recent grad struggling to pay off student loans or most people living in an urban community, $250,000 a year IS rich to them
Let's take the example of Joe
Which brings us to the real point of why that whole exchange during the debate bothered me:
Are we really THAT selfish America?
Granted, I recognize that I am not one of those ignorant bigots who believes that everyone who isn't making $250,000 a year or is accepting some form of government assistance is a lazy minority parasite, intent on living off the hard work of others. That's not to say that those people don't exist because I am not that naive nor hopeful, no matter how much I indulge Mr. Obama's frequent talk of hope. But, having had the opportunity to actually know some of those people (that is to say, rather than getting my information from talking points delivered by people who have probably never known struggle a day in their life to people who are so intent on ignorance that they don't even bother to question such a silly assertion), I recognize that this is not indicative of some vast majority of lower and middle class. Whether we like to admit it or not because of what it then implies about us, this country is not one that has an equal or level playing field for all. It is not, by the sheer nature of its history, a place where everyone is able to pull him or herself up by their own bootstraps. That is not to say that they don't try. Or even to say that they are incompetent or lazy. But there are certain factors at work that make that infinitely more difficult than, say, being born to an upper middle class family and then marrying your way into money to support your political dreams.
That all in all though is a totally different subject.
Instead I will use myself as an example.
I am young. I am college educated. I have had only 2 full years in the workforce full-time (9 if you include technically starting to work when I was 15). I have a stable job, at a well known company, I go to work everyday, I have health insurance and I have no children. I am not now, nor have I ever received any kind of government assistance of any kind (unless you count student loans, which I don't because I gotta pay that mayhem back).
At 24 years old, I am over $100,000 in debt.
Now, lest you believe that I am just utterly ridiculous in my spending, about $15,000 of that in in debt that I didn't necessarily have to take on (car note, credit cards). But in order to pursue that elusive fallacy called the American dream, I was told I needed to go to college. So I did.
And that's where it got me.
I pay my bills as much as I can on what little I make, I make arrangements for the rest. I, like just about every other recent college grad I know, have had to defer my student loan payments to the tune of an additional $15,000 in interest because I, like many of my counterparts, got screwed on my student loans. I don't have children to take care of, I don't have a home mortgage that I can default on. I thankfully have health insurance, but it is somewhat expensive for my paltry income. As it stands, I hold down 2 jobs, and I am looking for a 3rd to cover the shortfalls that I still see every month (and it should be said that I make more on my part time job than some make at full time jobs). I have been actively looking for a better paying job for more than 8 months. (Lest you question what I mean by "actively looking" I mean sending out resumes, going on interviews, utilizing the services of headhunters and recruiters.) I work damn hard to take care me and my dog. I very rarely ask my own family for money, let alone have I ever required government assistance. Partly because of my own pride but mostly because I am still finding ways to survive without needing it, and I wouldn't want to ever take away from someone who needs it to survive more than I.
That's what Joe and others like him will pay in taxes a year, a difference in $804.
$52, 682 is more than my entire annual salary, even before taxes.
I am not, outside of having the fortune and misfortune of being born a minority in this country, any of those things that so many people say they don't "want to support". I am not lazy. I am not ignorant. I don't have a household full of kids born out of wedlock. I am not on welfare. I go to work every single damn day.
Would you stand in my face and tell me that you wouldn't be willing to spend $804 more dollars and year so that I can go to graduate school, almost a necessity in this day? Would you tell me that you weren't willing to spend that so that I can get an apartment on my own one day, let alone ever buy a house? So that I could get the loan to start the performing arts school I want to open in my hometown?
Would you stand in my face and tell me that my dreams aren't worth $804?
On a grander scale, what we have lost in our great country isn't just accountability or work ethic. We have lost a greater sense of community. We no longer want to pay it forward and contribute to the greater good of all. There is far less a greater sense of duty not only to country but to each other than we have ever experienced. We have succumb to the belief that we accomplish our dreams on our own, through our own hard work and perseverance, forgetting the teachers that invested in us, the coaches that taught us life skills, the people who donated their time and effort to help our entrepreneurial enterprises before there was money to be paid, the customers that supported our business before we could even really call it a business. We have somehow convinced ourselves that once we accomplish our dreams, we owe nothing to anyone coming behind us and it is up to everyone else to figure out how to accomplish theirs. This loss of community is more starkly reflected in our minority communities, as many of them were already light years ahead of the decline. But we have lost a sense that all of us, no matter our color or religion or native land or tax bracket are a part of a whole picture, a big picture. We are all responsible for helping each other to the best of our abilities. We all affect each other. If you don't believe me, research how other people defaulting on their home mortgages is affecting your property values or the likelihood that your child can get a loan to pay for the astronomical cost of college.
We are selfish. And for the greatest country in the world to be victim of it's own hamartia is sad. My grandmother used to speak of a country built on the strength of its communities. Simple things like taking food to the house of a neighbor who recently suffered a death in the family. Calling the police if you sensed trouble. Giving what you could afford to spare to the single mother spending time working in someone else's house so that she could afford to keep her own for her and her family. Now, we stay to ourselves, soothing our souls by saying it's not our problem, that we shouldn't get involved. We have somehow not only convinced ourselves that these acts are not necessary or helpful, we have managed to delude ourselves into thinking that it is not our duty as American, as humans to help others that comprise this country.
I am not a statistic or a talking point. I am an American, trying just like most other people, to realize my full potential. There are days when I want to give up, when I think it would be easier to not go to work, to default on all my debt, to let someone else figure out what to do about it. But I never do. Because I recognize that doing so would be to the detriment of more than just myself. I am no island, and neither are you.
If $804 meant that I didn't have to watch my neighbor move his wife and three children out of their home, and sell it for 1/4 of what it was worth, I'd pay it. If it meant I could know what happened to them, that their family had somewhere to call home, I'd do it, even on my current salary. And be not deceived; $804 is a fortune to me right now.
I expect the slights in this campaign season to be many. I expect for there to be false or exaggerated claims made on both sides. No matter the talk of change, it is the ugliest part of our political landscape. Most of this I have learned to tune out.
But to call a man a Socialist, because he calls for every American to contribute to their greater community at large so that ALL can prosper, that is downright despicable.
I, much like Senator Obama, would consider it my honor to help a fellow countryman's dreams come true.