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Working Americans: Propped up or Just Poster Children?

Feel better now Hoosiers in Elkhart?  How about you Floridians in Fort Myers?  Now that your communities have served as poster children for the President's stimulus package, do you see relief?  My bet is that thousands of you will go to bed tonight not knowing how you'll cover the rent or the mortgage due in a couple of weeks or how to keep the utilities turned on when the disconnect notice reads pay up by Friday or else.  You see, your bail-out isn't going to materialize very quickly, and some of you won't make it.

The messengers of this crisis – the millions of Americans losing jobs, homes, health and lives – may be the subject of the message delivered by our new President, but so far we're sure not the ones being saved with any sense of urgency.

Maybe it's because I am so acutely aware of what unemployed and on- the- brink- of- financial- ruin feels like that I get so angry when I hear even this President I want to like so much talk about $2,500 tax credits and millions of new or (wink, wink) saved jobs and building the new economy.  None of that – none of it – will pay next month's rent or buy my asthma meds or stop the utility company from shutting off the power.  No IOU's will work for those amounts – even if the IOU is from a man named Obama.

I think the Washington elite get it well enough.  They sure understood the urgency when the big boys from Wall Street came calling last fall.  They passed cold, hard cash help for those fellows before most of us had time to organize our rage and spit back at the hypocrisy of it all.  By the time Congress heard how angry we were, the automakers took the brunt and the media thought we could be placated by story after story of corporate playfulness with the bail-out bucks.  They all miss the point.

Give him some time, they say of our new leader.  OK.  I'll give him some time.  How about he gives me and my issues the same serious level of action with the same expediency he voted to give to Wall Street and the financial interests last fall?  He was on the bail-out bandwagon then and he's on it now.

The reality is that real, working class Americans are suffering.  Today. Tonight.  Real moms and dads cannot make a safe and comfortable home for their children without decent jobs and wages – and certainly not without healthcare.  Putting food on the table, driving the family car, signing the kids up for after school activities, buying the allergy meds… all of it costs real here-and-now cash that families do not have.  And it hurts like hell to be patted on the head, showcased for our suffering and then wait for someone to actually give a damn in this whole mess we did not create.

Will Vice President Biden listen to real Americans on his blue ribbon commission on the middle class?  I doubt it.  I suspect he'll prop up a couple of Lou Dobbs-approved families and show some moderate understanding of their plights to hang onto the big suburban house and the big suburban lifestyle.  And will President Obama check back in with a suffering family or two and find out if anything remotely related to the TARP funds or the stimulus bill helped save them from eviction or foreclosure or bankruptcy or the collection calls that harass -- and stress that never abates when the mail comes and yet another creditor is getting threatening?  I doubt that too.

I've lived in the place where the unemployed dwell way too many times in my life.  I know the desperation and the anger.    I know still the fear of getting sick, missing work, having deductibles and bills I cannot pay and just wanting to never again need a doctor.  Yet, the President is still hell-bent on fixing the healthcare system by expanding the one that's already so broken that it makes me – the patient – scared to use it.  I don't want a bigger and richer insurance industry.  I want a better and safer healthcare system.  After all, President Obama said that healthcare is a human right.  OK.  Prove it to me that you understand what a human right is – for me and for so many others hurting and sick today who may not survive long enough for you to pitch your plan to many more hand-selected audiences.

I am upset today.  I am upset many days.  I am always in the state of waiting for a better day – and working my ass off to make sure I can enjoy it when it arrives.  I have been bruised and battered by this system that values my work and my life less that those I fund – like the Congress and the President (whether it's Obama or Bush).  I just want to go to sleep unafraid one night soon.  Just one night.  Is that too much for an American who has worked for 42 years to ask for?

I'd like the media to start showing us a different contrast on the nightly news than that between the corporate crooks using our funds for their lavish parties and trips and our own roles as taxpayers and funders of their bonanza.  I'd like to see a nightly comparison of how my chief executive lives and how Congress lives – the parties, the staff members, the healthcare, the housing – and how I live in fear. 

Let's see what really matters in this nation…  Do those who govern deserve the consent to do so from those of us being shafted due to their inaction?   Come on, let's get honest and let's really get to work fixing this mess for all Americans, and let's stop using Americans who are suffering as examples to push forward an agenda that doesn't yet have them getting much help at all.

If this recovery you think you are crafting takes down millions of families before taking hold, the political ramifications will be mighty – we were asked to believe, and now you are asked to respond in kind.  Believe in us – your citizens – enough to know we are the backbone of the recovery.  Without our investment, you will lose this battle.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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