Saturday, November 3, 2012

Don't Throw Away Your Teeth

The 94-year-old woman was frustrated with her new dentures. They irritated her gums, despite repeated visits to the dentist who kept telling her to give it time and she would get used to them. She complained to her friend she wanted to just throw her dentures in the garbage and eat soft foods. He told her, “Don't throw away your teeth.” He said he had the same problem when he got new dentures, but reassured her that he did eventually get used to them.

Throughout our lives we trade advice and encouragement with friends. “Dump him, he's not right for you.” “Don't worry, you'll get a new job that's even better.” “It isn't a big deal, kids grow out of these things.” “I know you miss her after all these years, but time will make things easier.”

Coming from people we know and love, these simple platitudes help us get over the little bumps in the road and through the most profound losses. They are just words, but they make a huge difference.

Sometimes we need more than words, more than a hug, more than a gift basket. That is what Mitt Romney doesn't seem to understand. His gesture of packing canned food to ship to areas hit by hurricane Sandy, and his running mate Paul Ryan's photo op helping at a soup kitchen, were supposed to show their deep concern for people in need. Instead, they were powerful symbols showing how far from reality current Republican attitudes towards social responsibility are.

Damage from the hurricane will run into the billions of dollars. Millions of people need power, water, debris removal, rebuilding, transportation, medical care, and more. The effort will require many thousands of people and many billions of dollars over a period of months, and even with all that, people will suffer losses. The notion that a shipment of canned food or a serving of soup is all that is needed is astounding, and yet that is the essence of the Republican party's call to eliminate what they label as entitlement programs for what Romney called the 47 percent whom he said “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Today, the people who think they are victims and that government has a responsibility to care for them includes nearly 100% of the people in New York and surrounding areas.

Just as ridiculous is the Republican philosophy that people can get by without government assistance because private charity will get the job done. Last year, the American Red Cross spent $283 million helping victims of nearly 70,000 natural disasters in the US, including drought, tornadoes, and floods. The same type of disasters occur every year. There is no way the Red Cross or all other charities put together will be able to help nearly as many victims of hurricane Sandy as the government will help. And yet Romney and his party pretend that miracles will happen and the multitude will be fed with a few loaves.

If we abolish FEMA and eliminate government assistance as Romney suggests, we will be turning natural disasters into human catastrophes. If we continue to deny the influence of man-made climate change, as the Republican platform proposes, we will have more natural disasters with more severe consequences.

There are things we can do as individuals, other things we can do through philanthropic institutions, and still other things we can only do as a nation with the assistance of our government. Right now, the most important thing all of us can do to help the victims of hurricane Sandy and victims of disasters still to come is to not vote for Republicans.

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