As a former Republican, now Independent voter, and one who spends a significant amount of volunteer time with the impoverished and homeless populations, it never ceases to amaze me how people vote against their own economic interests time and time again. I have always tended to be more economically conservative, but more progressive in my views on civil rights. I don’t think I am alone in this category. When I have been involved in community groups helping those in need, I have always tried to make sure the community investment is breaking the cycle of poverty, helping people climb a ladder to self-sufficiency. In other words, I want the investment to achieve a return, by helping someone get back on their feet.
I left the Republican Party several years ago for a variety of reasons, but if I had to sum up the three main reasons, they would be as follows:
– the ostrich-head-in-the-sand like stance on global warming which is financed by the oil and gas industry and runs counter to overwhelming data and scientists opinion;
– the lack of awareness or refusal to address the underlying problems in our society and the dumbing down of messages for a more strident audience; and
– the propensity to make up, embellish and dress up propaganda that can look authentic, such as the information found on various websites.
These last two topics frustrate me and are a cause of the first one. I felt we were as close to the novel “1984” as we have ever been when the last George Bush was President. Editing scientific papers to delete references to global warming, falsifying information to justify sending troops into battle in Iraq and saying people were un-American when they criticized the President, just put me over the edge. This is why I have been a constant voice in saying to understand the context of what people said and did, understand the source of the data, and understand what it is and isn’t, all of which is hard. If you look at the Heritage Foundation website, it all looks very authentic and you would walk away with a different opinion than if you read a more independent website. For the record, I don’t watch Fox News or MSNBC as you tend to get a strong bias of what is news and the editorialists tend to shout over each other. I encourage people to watch the PBS Newshour as it is the most in-depth and reasonable news and opinion you will find.
I wanted to provide this context for my thoughts, so people would know where I am coming from. We currently have 46 million Americans in poverty and approximately 49 million Americans without health care insurance. Health Care Reform will not be largely operational until 2014. We have an even greater number of people who are living pay check to pay check. Parade Magazine reported on a survey it conducted before the recession which said about 2/3 of Americans who made under $90,000 were living pay check to pay check. That is a staggering statistic. We Americans do not save enough and so, when crises hit, we had people who did not have a safety net to cushion the blow. In the volunteer work I do, we saw a huge up tick of people who had never even been close to being homeless or near-homeless that fell into this situation. But, even before then, a great number of homeless people are employed – they are just under-employed working retail or service jobs, which perpetuate poverty due to low wages. This is what some of the conservative websites won’t tell you.
For many people in America, it is not a truism that you can work as hard as you can and get out of poverty. Jobs that are at or close to the minimum wage do not provide sufficient income to climb out of poverty. I have referenced before the book “Nickle and Dimed in America” which I believe is a must read for every high school freshman. If you do not get an education, you in essence, are screwed. That means at a minimum, you must get a high school degree, but for the new global economy, even that won’t work. There are jobs that have gone away and they are not coming back. They have been replaced by technology or been outsourced. Even if you learn a craft or trade, there is a basic knowledge of math, English and technology that is required to do any job. When Mercedes built a plant in Alabama, the Germans realized they had to dumb down the manuals with more pictures, as Americans were not educated enough on basic reading and writing skills.
Yesterday, the voters in Alabama and Mississippi voted in the GOP primary which is the reason for the timing of this article. I was watching a news clip which interviewed a number of Mississippi voters. The reporter attested for every person shown there were a significant number just like them that echoed the same voice and were not shown, so she said it was not a biased selection. To a person, they were more concerned about religious values and voting against a President who was Muslim. One even said that he was Muslim and not an American, as if that was mutually exclusive. Many of these folks were living in dire poverty, but they did not articulate they were voting for someone to help them with their situation. One alluded to the promise that his situation would change, not voting for someone who will help the situation.
As of this writing, the state of Mississippi is the most impoverished state in the country at a rate of over of 22%. Said another way, one out of five Mississippians live in poverty. In Alabama, the poverty rate is 16%, which is the seventh worst rate in the country. In Alabama, one out of six people are in poverty. I am not picking on these two states, as you can find a significant level of poverty in other states, as well. Yet, with the heavy evangelical influence are people voting against their economic interests by siding with people who tout religious beliefs as the basis for a vote, more so than can I help you with your problems? I believe the are.
I say this because of my earlier contentions about two major issues in this country – poverty and the lack of health care. The GOP is not speaking to the former at all. In fact, with deficit cutting measures, which are needed, there is a heavier hand in the GOP to curtail or eliminate programs that help people in need. Many of these measures will add fuel to a fire and will lead to more poverty. And, the most significant issue in our country is education which will address poverty longer term. We have to educate our people better, as to do otherwise will jeopardize all that we are about. Businesses are designed to make money – if we cannot afford them with an educated workforce, they will find it elsewhere and are doing so.
The health care situation is one that does not get due consideration. The Massachusetts Health Care Reform plan that was put in by Mitt Romney is working pretty well, but he has to hide from that fact. The President modeled much of what was passed after the Massachusetts plan. Obamacare is far from perfect, but I would wager right now, that most people who are against it could not correctly articulate why they are. They are against because someone told them to be against it. It needs further refinement, but at the heart of it is to get more people covered either through employers, exchanges or Medicaid. Here is where I get at voting against your economic interests. To leave our system at status quo is not a solution – we cannot have 49 million Americans without coverage; we cannot have the 38th ranked heath care system in the world as rated by global health organizations who also say we have the highest cost system in the world. That is a terrible return on investment.
From my vantage point, I do not see the GOP as the party of choice for people who live in the situations they do. I see a party who masks they are a trickle down economics party who is catering to the evangelicals. I do not see them promoting education for the masses and I do not see them talking about living wages. I do see a President who is talking about jobs and who has overseen success in helping slowly turn the corner. We need to highlight the job creation and the incentive to promote new industry. As noted in earlier posts, the Occupy Movement has raised attention on a very valid point – we have an economic disparity in this country that is abysmal. If we do not address this issue, we will see more turmoil. Yet, the conservative in me would not allow the Tea Party mantra of getting our hands around the deficit go unnoticed.
We have serious problems in our country and we need good dialogue and long-range planning. This planning has to be bi-partisan as its execution will go beyond one presidency. We need people to understand the issues and vote for someone who can best address them. As an Independent, I could tolerate Romney if he won the White House, as he is more of a moderate and has a financial mindset. I see someone like Santorum who will spend most of his time on the wrong issues. Yet, I see many blindly voting in the GOP primaries against their economic interests. That is unfortunate.