So, my sister’s gone rogue. Back in 2008, I successfully managed to woo her away from the sway of her Republican-voting husband with the sweet birdsong of hope and change. Actually, looking back, Oprah probably deserves more credit than I do. Back then she seemed to read, watch, listen and do whatever Oprah said she should. Not this time.
I don’t know why I was surprised when I emailed her a link to the New Yorker‘s Obama endorsement, and she responded “Why should I? I’m done with Obama.” There had been early warnings. When her kids came to visit over the summer, they let slip that “Mom says she’s voting for Romney, she says Obama’s going to raise our taxes.”
At this point it’s important for you know a few things about my sister: She lives with her husband and her three kids in a million dollar home in a very red state.
Her husband is an honest-to-goodness, pulled-himself-up-by-his-own-bootstraps story; he came from less than nothing and climbed the ladder up from running his own one-man landscaping company to corporate sales rep, then sales manager, and finally general manager, earning six figures, along with a fat stock portfolio, and, eventually, a million dollar home. They were living the star-spangled American dream. And then the financial collapse of 2008 hit. Overnight, my brother-in-law’s company went from record profits to less-than-record profits, which is understandable, given that the economy was in free fall.
Well, his corporate overlords didn’t find that understandable; after all, the company’s stock value was at risk, meaning their personal wealth was imperiled. And after giving him six months to “turn it around” in the face of an economy still in the early stages of a vertiginous descent, they busted him down to sales manager, then to sales rep, and finally they unceremoniously shitcanned him. Ten years of a record profits and astonishing market share gains canceled out by four quarters of unrealistic sales projections unmet. He’s been unemployed ever since.
Which brings us back to my sister not voting for Obama because he would raise their taxes. The only people who would see an increase in their taxes are households making more than $250,000. That’s no longer my sister and brother-in-law—possibly for good. I was hoping that this would be cause for reflection and perhaps an epiphany. That the scales would fall from her eyes and she would finally see just how grotesquely out of balance, breathtakingly unfair, and perilously unsustainable things had become in this country.
How, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office study, over the course of the last 28 years the top one percent of households gained 275 percent, while the middle class gained just 40 percent. How in the last 20 years, the top 400 earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 476 percent while median family income increased by 13.2 percent. How the combined wealth of the six scions of the Walmart-owning Walton family is equivalent to the combined wealth of the bottom 40 percent of all Americans. How this didn’t happen by accident. How Mitt Romney is fine with all that, and doesn’t even think such things should be discussed in mixed company.
Like many swing voters who have swung to Romney, she seems willing to overlook or unable to grasp the profound depths of his mendacity, hypocrisy, self-denial, utter shamelessness and jaw-dropping willingness to say, do or deny whatever it takes to get elected. I suspect it is aspirational, that it has something to do with John Steinbeck’s famous dictum that Americans “see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
Federal spending is out of hand, she said, mouthing that hoary Koch Brothers talking point, and it was immoral to saddle her children with our debt. I responded that if everyone went back to paying taxes at the rate they did under Bill Clinton—during a decade that saw unprecedented peace and prosperity, economic expansion and a whopping federal surplus—and we stop starting and funding protracted wars on a Chinese credit card, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Besides, I said hoping to close the deal, what’s truly immoral is leaving your children a world wrecked and ruined by global climate change and all its attendant consequences: parching drought, deadly floods, grinding famine, mass extinction, massive social dislocation, and a global constellation of vicious perma-wars fought over dwindling resources, disputed borders and disappearing coastlines.
Well, she said, she’d think about it.
Just promise me you’ll read the New Yorker endorsement, I said. A few days later I got an email from her (pretty sure she pecked this out on her phone, possibly while driving):
Ok.. Read.. Still done [with Obama] … If u. Had a clue about what he is about to do with our health care system … U might think different or not .. Socialized medicine is very scary
This was coming from a registered nurse. It is at once troubling and symptomatic that somebody who labors in the machinery of the health-care system could be so profoundly misinformed about the fundamentals of the Obamacare reforms. I wrote back:
I know exactly what’s in that bill. It’s not socialized medicine—if ONLY it were. Contrary to what Fox News would have you believe, Canada and France and the ENTIRE industrialized world have wonderful single-payer health-care systems that are ranked far above ours in terms of health outcomes, coverage, quality, lifespan, infant mortality rates, etc. We have the 37th best health-care system in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Obamacare will mean you cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition—which means when, say, your husband loses his job and health-care plan and you go to get private insurance, you can’t be denied because you had that pre-cancerous mole removed a few years back. It means kids up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ plan, ensuring that your three children won’t have to rely on the emergency room for treatment during that ever-widening gap between college graduation and gainful employment. It means 30 million uninsured will have coverage. That’s 30 million people who now rely on the emergency room for primary care, and guess who pays that whopping bill? You do. Every year, 26,000 uninsured Americans die premature deaths for lack of preventive care. You call yourself a Christian, how can you not see how un-Jesus-like it is for the richest country on Earth to consign 30 million of its own citizens to an early grave?
Have you even read the bill? Read this interview I did with the former VP-of-CIGNA-turned-whistleblower on the evils of the private insurance industrial complex. Romney preaches the gospel of the free market, which is great for a lot of things, but health care isn’t one of them and here’s why: By law, the top priority of any corporation is enhancing shareholder value. That means your health insurance company’s number one job is not keeping your kids alive, it’s making sure the stockholders make more money. And if making sure that the stockholders make more money means they have to deny a life-saving procedure to one of your kids, then so be it. Welcome to the free market. Seriously, that kind of thing DOES happen. Read that interview or Google Natalie Sarkisyan. Michael Moore called it “amazing,” by the way. I realize that doesn’t sweeten the deal for you, but I would just like to say for the record that I’m damn proud of that endorsement. I know in your world he is just a right-wing punching bag, but years from now, when these times are better understood, history will remember him as someone who went to bat for the angels. Trust me.
Well, I thought, you threw a lot at her, give her a chance to mull it over and soak it in. She’ll see the light. Just give her some time.
While we wait, let me say this: I see voting Democrat as the lesser of two evils. If I had my druthers I would vote straight Green Party ticket, the only party actually talking about the real problems in this country and offering grown-up solutions. But there’s too much at stake in this election to vote for unicorns, so I will be pulling the lever for Obama, knowing fully well that he is simply not the guy I thought I was voting for in 2008.
The choice is fairly stark to me: It comes down to the Supreme Court, the one branch of government that truly can affect sweeping, paradigm-shifting change with the bang of a gavel. I don’t trust Mitt Romney to select a Supreme Court Justice. One Clarence Thomas is too many.
A week went by with no response from sis, then two, which could only mean one thing: That train has already left the station. My sister is going to stay in the Romneyverse, where health care is slavery, federal disaster relief is “simply immoral,” corporations are people and 47 percent of all Americans are lazy, unquenchable leeches sucking on the desiccated hind tit of big government. Even worse, I fear that as my sister goes, so goes the nation, and come next Tuesday the turkeys will vote for Thanksgiving. Lord help us all.
Jonathan Valania is editor-in-chief of Phawker.com.