What Safety Net?

Mitt Romney’s inappropriate off the cuff remarks about half the American people show us that he has little understanding of the problems facing many people. He claims that these people are dependent on government, and yet the reality for most people is that government is not there for them when they are in need. After the welfare reforms under Bill Clinton, in which many, if not most people were struck off the welfare rolls, there are few places for people to turn when life goes wrong.

When people lose their jobs, they do have unemployment insurance to fall back on for a while. The payments from this program are quite small and certainly do not allow most people to pay rent, buy medical insurance, put food on the table, clothe children and pay for education and transport. What Mitt conveniently forgets, is that people have paid for this insurance – it gets taken out of their paychecks every month. It is not a hand-out any more than claiming from car insurance in the case of an accident. This is something for which you have paid and to which you are entitled. You have no choice in paying for this, but when life goes wrong, you are entitled to recompense.

When times are tough, citizens ought to be able to turn to government for assistance. When businesses are not hiring, when government is laying people off, and you have lost a job, you cannot take responsibility. You will probably lose your housing, and be unable to feed yourself. What is the advantage to living in a civilized state if you are homeless, hungry and at the mercy of the police and your fellow citizens? There are countless anarchic regimes around the globe that offer similar living conditions.

It should be the responsibility of governments when times are difficult, to help its citizens and to ensure an end to those difficult times. If that means that government should get into the business of creating jobs, well, so be it. It does not help to live in a country that is free of government intervention if you are starving, homeless and without hope.

As it is, unlike most civilized nations, there is no universal health care in the United States. If you contract a debilitating disease, you have nowhere to turn other than emergency rooms, which are very expensive. You cannot just allow a member of your family to die just to support the principles of freedom.

When Romney says he is not concerned about the very poor, what he really means is that as far as he is concerned, they do not exist. There is no real safety net for those people. He implies that they are living high on the hog on government money. Naturally, they have car elevators in their one room tenements, and at least three or four houses dotted around the country. They also visit Monaco and Cancun on regularly scheduled vacations. He has clearly never experienced the conditions under which the poor live.

His reaction is vaguely reminiscent of that quotation attributed to Marie Antoinette when told of the living conditions of the serfs – “Let them eat cake”. She too had little understanding of the manner in which the serfs lived, and neither does Romney.

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