When George Bush ran for president the first time out, he told an aide, "I never met a poor person before. I wouldn't know what to say to one."He apparently decided against trying. He's managed to make it through nearly seven years in office without having a conversation with a poor person - unless it was for a photo op, of course.
I remember seeing him do a half-Nelson hug on some poor black woman in New Orleans after Katrina, all kind of jokey. I half expected him to give her a noogie.
I figure he was saying, "Come on over here, you cute, little, poor black person. Y'all kind of remind me of my maid. Smile for the camera now! Noogie, noogie!!"
When he spoke into the microphone after releasing her, he might just as well have begun by saying, "My fellow Americans. I'm here to offer false hope to these cute, little poor victims of Katrina."
Anyway, that's about as close as I've seen him to a poor person. But evidently he never met a middle-class person, either. After all these years, he still seems to be entirely in the dark about what life is like for middle-class Americans who are hovering on the brink.
They might be putting food on the table, paying the mortgage, buying their children shoes and clothes, even taking a vacation now and then - but for those who don't get health insurance through their jobs, they aren't taking their kids to the doctor all that often.
God forbid that their kids actually have something go wrong that lands them in the hospital - an asthma attack, maybe, or a broken arm after taking a spill off a skateboard. Thus begins the slide down the slippery slope of unmanageable debt.
I'm talking here about your friends and neighbors - small business owners like the guy who owns the pizza place downtown and the photographer who took your daughter's wedding pictures and the repairman who services your lawn mower each spring.
These middle-class folks would have to spend at least $12,000 annually to get health insurance for their families. Have you got a spare $12,000? I don't. If I weren't insured through work, I'd be in the same boat.
But clearly, George Bush has no clue about such families. Just never met them. Never had a chat.
If he had, it's hard to imagine that he'd have vetoed a bill last week that would have continued and expanded SCHIP - the State Children's Health Insurance Program that provides coverage for 6.6 million middle-class kids whose folks can't afford insurance.
Congress passed legislation two weeks ago that would have reauthorized and expanded the program. But Bush's veto means the program is dead. So are a few kids, too, most likely.
For the moment, SCHIP is still limping along on the fumes of emergency funding. Eight states, including New York, are suing the president in an effort to preserve the program. Let's hope they succeed.
But it's criminal that our nation has such a dismal health-care policy that people are thrown to the wolves if they don't work for a company with a health plan.
There's something radically wrong when 47 million citizens of a rich country like ours are without health insurance. And there's something radically wrong with a president who vetoes a bill that would at least ensure that the children are taken care of.
The most surprising part of Bush's veto is that it just makes him look so bad politically. If nothing else, Bush is a consummate politician, mindful of appearances. I suppose he could always create a photo op to give the impression that he likes kids. (And puppies, too!)
Don't be surprised if you see him on TV, giving some cute, little middle-class kid a noogie. But what he'd say into the microphone afterward would surely be nothing more than the offer of false hope.
Beth's column appears on Monday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 The Times Herald-Record