Over the weekend, I heard from a man I went to school with almost 40 years ago. He made a fortune as a stockbroker and in retirement is active in right-wing politics, acting as a significant rainmaker for some high-profile Texas Tea Party candidates. Ralph, as I’ll call him, was miffed at a column I wrote for ChicagoSide sports, explaining why the current Cubs ownership makes me want to stay away from Wrigley Field. “Social Security and health care aren’t part of the core functions of government,” he said. “If people want health care, they should save for it, just as they should save for their retirement.”
This morning, as I walked to the lake with my dog, we passed a homeless couple waking up from a night on a park bench. We know each other by sight. The woman, who likes to pet the dog, only has five teeth, so it’s hard to understand what she’s saying. I’d been feeling grumpy, because in my comfortable home on my high-quality mattress I hadn’t been able to sleep. As the woman and I exchanged greetings and she fondled the dog’s ears, my first thought was, “Count your blessings.”
My second thought was how much happier I would be if I embraced Ralph’s point-of-view. Ralph is a born-again Christian, but he cherry picks his bible just as I cherry-pick mine. I tend to think of the petulant Cain demanding “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or the commandments to leave part of the harvest for the homeless to collect, and feel shame at where I fall short. Ralph tends to think of how he’s been washed in the blood of the Lamb and nothing else he says or does matters.
When I read the Constitution, I focus on the Preamble, which says we’re establishing the United States Constitution in order to “establish justice…and promote the General Welfare.” Ralph thinks the whole document is obsolete wallpaper except for the right to bear arms.
Gail Collins, on tour for her new book As Texas Goes, says no state is willing to let its citizens die by the side of the road. In fact, many states and many people are willing to do just that. Texas itself has decided to eliminate all Medicaid funding for clinics that provide family planning in an effort to get rid of Planned Parenthood in the state. Indiana, Kansas and Iowa have or are considering similar options. Women who haven’t been able to save as much money as Ralph, maybe because Wal-Mart and McDonalds don’t pay as well as manipulating derivatives, now cannot afford health care. Over a hundred thousand Texas women depended on Planned Parenthood for all their health care needs, not just contraception or abortion. In the effort to protect foetal life, these states are willing to sacrifice the lives and health of all the low-income women who live there. But Ralph knows this is the right thing to do. He’s so much happier than I am and I don’t think it’s all because of Jesus. If you know the poor have only themselves to blame for poverty, you can go to the beach with your dog and not worry about the woman on the bench with five teeth. It’s certainly true that I don’t do more for her than Ralph does.
A few years ago I was introduced to the CFO of one of Chicago’s biggest hospitals. He also said health care was a privilege, not a right. My granddaughter’s birth was lying heavy on my mind at the time. Her mother had a difficult delivery, and because my son’s firm didn’t cover obstetrical care, and he and his wife worked low-wage jobs, my husband and I paid their substantial medical bills. I asked the CFO what someone who didn’t have parents with savings should have done? Let the woman and child die? Become homeless? Our fight drew a crowd but other than entertaining the other restaurant patrons, we didn’t resolve anything. We both left convinced we were right, but I must say, it’s easier to be right and happy when you have a lot of cash.
My experience with the CFO led me not to get into an argument with Ralph, since neither of us was going to budge, but I will say he sleeps better than I do.