On the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference 2013 (CPAC) in Washington DC, I couldn’t help questioning conservatives’ lip service to “traditional family values” when their policy platform is all about squeezing the poor, elderly and disabled while helping corporations and the rich 1% rake in more profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Tim Dickenson’s recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine sums it all up: “The GOP’s Real Agenda.”
So I called my sister in Ohio. We were due for a long conversation to catch up on our lives. Since she can’t make long distance calls on her landline, I have to call her. It was great to hear her voice and she was happy to hear from me.
“I was worried that you didn’t have my new number,” she said. “I had to move so my number changed.” This was surprising news because she had lived in that small town on the outskirts of Cincinnati for many years.
“Your old number gave me your new number, ” I told her and then asked where and why she’d moved. She explained she’d moved to another small town just a few miles away because it was “safer.” More surprising news. This had always been a quiet, small town.
“I came home one night, ” she explained, “and found my apartment building surrounded by police cars. It was really scary.” A policeman told her that there had been a heroin bust. “I just didn’t feel safe anymore…an older woman, living alone…you know?”
“Junkies will do anything,” I agreed. She told me that heroin had hit her hometown hard.
“They’re coming from Cincinnati,” she said. “It’s really bad down there, and now they’re moving out into all the small towns. They’re everywhere.” She spoke as if heroin trafficking was an infestation of vermin or the plague. She was not exaggerating or imagining. She was reporting an eye witness account of a tsunami of social ills that had swept through these Ohio towns after most of the jobs had disappeared.
Pushers, like vultures, coming to pick over the bones of what was once alive: the dreams of small town residents who believed that by “working hard” they could earn their share of American prosperity.
Always one to look for the silver lining, she said she was making the best of her new apartment and trying to get adjusted. There were just a couple of things about her health that worried her. “My diabetes has gotten worse.”
She doesn’t have medical insurance, and it’s almost impossible to pay for health care. When I asked about her diet, she told me couldn’t afford to eat the foods that her diet requires. I was surprised—again—to discover that she didn’t qualify for Food Stamps.
“I make one dollar more than their cut-off for income,” she said. So far, my sister is managing to get by on a small Social Security benefit from her late husband and cleaning houses. In her spare time, she helps her children and grandchildren. So she eats cheap fast food most of the time. There are lots of fast food restaurants in the small towns now. Her limited access to healthy food is making her diabetes worse.
“They [her social service case managers] wanted me to apply for disability because I’m a diabetic,” she said, “but I don’t want to stop working.” I told her she could continue to work as a disabled adult and earn as much as $1,04o a month in wages. This time she was surprised. “Why don’t they tell you this?” Good question.
She continued her story. “I fell and hurt myself a couple of weeks ago.” When she was moving into her new apartment, she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. She said she was lucky to have been able to break her fall with her hand because it kept her from falling face first onto the broken concrete–even though the fall did bang up her knee, bust her lip and break her top dentures in half. And it likely broke her hand. “It could have been worse, ” she mused.
She said she doesn’t know for sure if her hand was broken because she couldn’t afford to go to the hospital or see a doctor. “I wrapped in an ace bandage, and it’s been getting better.” But what about your teeth?
“I just glued the pieces together,” she said. ” I know it looks awful. One tooth is chipped…but I have to have teeth, and that’s the best I can do right now.”
There were some bright spots in her life though. She’s turning 65 in April and qualifies for Medicare on April 1. “I’m so excited…I’m going to have a physical and a mammogram,” she said, listing other routine preventative things she hasn’t been able to do in years to care for her health.
I know how she feels because, thanks to “Obamacare,” I’ve had health insurance coverage since February 1 after being without insurance for a few years. Like me, she’ll have to pay extra for dental coverage because the health of your mouth is considered an optional, extra benefit. So her dentures may remain glued together for a while.
And there was more good news. She told me how thrilled she was to help celebrate her newest grandson’s six-month milestone. “He’s beautiful and sweet. Everybody is in love with him,” she said, explaining the baby and his mom will soon be joining her son in Texas where he’ll be stationed in the Air Force once he completes his training.
I remembered that my nephew had enlisted last year with hopes of becoming a medic and eventually a nurse. With a wife and baby on the way, it was his only option to be able to provide for them and to obtain job training for himself. Some call it the “poverty draft.” Even though she’ll miss seeing her grandson grow up, my sister is proud of her son’s accomplishments and thankful that his little family has a stable income and hopes for a better life.
“But I am a little worried about what’s going on in Korea,” she confided. She’s been paying closer attention to the news these days, especially news that could affect her son’s safety. I asked what he was being trained to do. This last bit of news made my heart ache. My young, barely-a-man nephew is learning how to load bombs onto planes (drones?) so he can provide for his wife and baby—and serve his country too, of course.
“President Obama keeps saying he wants to bring our military home,” she said. “So why can’t he just do it? Why does he just keep talking about it?” We agreed that there’s plenty of work for our military to do at home. How ’bout some good, old-fashioned nation building here in the U.S.?
“I just have to pray and try to put my trust in God,” she said. Yes, I consoled her. We have to keep hoping for better days. “And hope that we don’t get another Republican in the White House next time,” she added.
My guileless, sincere sister was channeling the voice of small town America that evening. But I was thinking “our dystopian future has arrived” and “what can we do about the Republicans in Congress now?”
We have those who are living in their gated communities enjoying more wealth, entitlements and privilege than ever and the many more unlucky outlanders surviving however they can in violence-ridden, drug-addicted, fracking-polluted food deserts. And most of us consider ourselves lucky if we still have a roof over our head. Is the GOP really blind to this reality?
No matter how they update their talking points, our social safety net is in the GOP’s cross-hairs—after they plundered a budget surplus and put two wars on a credit card. How have their draconian policies benefited our country? Thanks to these endless wars, more American military personnel are dying from suicide than in combat.
Yet, these family-values-touting Republicans are saying they’re worried about the national debt and “big government” as an excuse to push for more austerity. At least they haven’t been able to take away our recently acquired access to health care—yet. That’s something to be hopeful about, right?
~Nan Logsdon Mandelkorn