“You were NOT a Republican,” she stated. “There is just no way.”
“Not just a Republican,” I replied. “I was actually heartbroken that, because of my age, I missed voting for Ronald Reagan by only three months in the 1984 election.”
Since I was talking to my friend on the phone, I can’t confirm that her mouth was actually hanging open, but I’m pretty sure it was.
“What happened?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” I replied. “But by the time I graduated from college, I’d changed political parties.”
In all honesty, I do know what happened. I’d identified the core values that would guide the rest of my life, and they simply just didn’t align with the Republican Party.
I don’t think my friend, or anyone else, really cares about how I arrived at my decision. And, until this past week, I didn’t feel any need to explain.
But after witnessing one too many debates about how people who receive SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps) may be eligible for additional benefits if they were affected by the derecho (http://www.catholiccharitieswv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=300%3Awv-long-term-disaster-recovery-derecho-storm-a-power-outage-disaster&catid=45%3Aannouncements&limitstart=1), I felt the need to say something.
On the surface, the gist of the conservatives’ argument against the additional benefits was that the government was once again frivolously spending taxpayers dollars.
But, as the arguments continued, a different, more self-centered concern actually emerged. Several people were turning the discussion into a conversation about fairness, or more particularly unfairness, in regards to their own lives: ” I lost all my food when the power went out, and no one is paying me to replace it.” “I have a lot of health care bills, and the government isn’t stepping in to help me.” “Basically, I’m being punished for having a job. ”
Sadly, I could relate to their complaints. That kind of thinking was the reason I had originally registered a Republican.
At the age of 18, I really did believe that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, and if a person worked hard and persevered, they should be able to meet their own needs. If they couldn’t make ends meet, they needed to work harder or get a better education to get a better job. I believed in responsibility: if people made bad decisions then they, not I, should have to pay for those decisions. And I believed that our leaders had our, not their own, best interests at heart.
I held onto those beliefs because I was surrounded by people who believed the same thing. Then I went to college, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t.
I met too many people who had been denied equal opportunity through no fault of their own. I met too many people who had made poor decision after poor decision only to be bailed out by family while others fell into bad luck and had no one who could help. I learned more and more about greed, inequality and political corruption. And I learned more about myself.
At some point, I was confronted with the ultimate question: is life about what I can do for myself or is it about providing unconditional support for others, even when it sometimes costs me?
I chose the latter.
Don’t get me wrong. I can be very self-centered, and I know a lot of Republicans who are anything but selfish.
I just don’t think the core of my political beliefs should be about what makes my, or my family’s, life better or easier. I think public policy should be about ensuring the safety and well-being of all Americans, particularly those who haven’t had the same privileges that I’ve had: good parents, a good education, a decent I.Q. and a lack of any significant health problems.
When I look back on 18-year-old me, I still understand where I was coming from.
I still think people should do their best and be responsible for their behavior. I also think corporations and millionaires should do the same.
I still believe in hard work and self discipline. I also believe that too many people work very hard and still don’t get paid a fair wage so they can’t make ends meet.
I still wish life were fair. I also realize that making life more fair for everyone requires public policies that provide additional support for those who need it.
The difference between 18 year-old me and 45 year-old me is I don’t think the world owes me anything. Instead, I think I owe the world. The difference is I know some people put their own interests above the interests of others, even when it comes to the environment or safety or health. And I know that the most effective way to ensure such people do minimal damage is to implement and enforce regulation.The difference is that even though I don’t agree with wasteful spending, the wasteful spending I’ve seen isn’t for the programs intended to make the lives of most Americans better.
The difference is that I have enough life experience to know that life isn’t about being fair.
And that’s why I got so frustrated with the debate about additional SNAP/food stamp assistance. The debate wasn’t about whether people needed the assistance. Instead, it was a debate about fairness. I’m pretty sure if you asked the majority of people who were eligible to receive the help, they would be the first to tell you life isn’t fair. If it were, they’d be fortunate enough to afford to replace their own groceries while complaining about those who couldn’t.