We all have nights that we can’t sleep, where thoughts scurry ’round in our heads like a hamster on a wheel.
Well, for me, last night was one of those nights. So here I am, at 4:30 in the morning trying to get those thoughts out of my head, and then, maybe, I can sleep for a few more hours.
You know, reader, the direction my thoughts have been taking. I’ve said before that I’ve been angry for almost a decade, and yes, I still am angry, but last night, my thoughts slipped into sadness. The earthquake on the East coast didn’t do that for me; in fact, I almost enjoyed it – as a Californian who has been through several large quakes, including living about 4 miles from the epicenter of the 6.2 Northridge quake, well, let’s just say I had a few giggles at the “freakout quotient” of a whole lot of people for whom this was a new experience. Not my finest moment, but I admit to enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of my friends on the East coast. I giggled at pictures of a tipped over plastic lawn chair labeled as “earthquake damage.” And yes, I laughed at the jokes about Chris Christie “jumping into the race.” Nobody was hurt, and it seemed that for a moment there, we Americans could all share a laugh at ourselves.
But of course, it didn’t last. It wasn’t long before the Republican Scrooges reasserted themselves. Even though the quake had its epicenter in Eric Cantor’s district (which, according to folks like Pat Robertson, ought to tell him something), Mr. Cantor lost no time proclaiming that any federal disaster assistance needed to be offset by spending cuts, or there wasn’t going to be any federal assistance. He even went so far as to say that people should “dip into their savings” to fix their houses. Well, if it were me, I’d ask, “What savings?” (I have exactly $296.31 in my savings account.) He pulled this same ugly crap on the people of Joplin who lost their homes in the recent tornado.
And now, less than a week later, there is Irene, a powerful hurricane spinning slowly up the Eastern seaboard, already wreaking havoc in her wake with flooding, downed trees and power lines, mashed cars and damaged or destroyed homes. Once again, it seems that Eric Cantor couldn’t get to a microphone quickly enough in order to put forth more of his ugly extortionate demands of spending cuts – or no FEMA for you!
But this time, he was joined by several other prominent assho–er, Republicans demanding the same thing: perennial presidential candidate and certified extremist Ron Paul didn’t hold back when he tossed in his 2 cents. Ron Paul’s remarks on this subject were particularly ugly – he’s in favor of dealing with Irene like we dealt with hurricanes back in 1900. Yep. You read that right. Ron Paul, in all his libertarian “wisdom,” wants to abolish FEMA completely, well, because it’s part of the big bad unconstitutional government and all it does is suck money away from the rich, the powerful, the corporations – the job creators – in order to give handouts to feckless people who are stupid and lazy enough to live in a flood zone on the Gulf Coast in a wooden house.
In other words, Ron Paul says that if your house falls down on you, or you are trapped in your attic because of rising floodwaters, you have no food, water, power, medical care or basic sanitation, well, you just better toughen up, Mac, because you’re on your own. Pull up your all-American bootstraps (if you can find them in the wreckage of your house), pull on your big-boy pants and get out there and deal with it. Round up a few of your fellow citizens – if they aren’t injured or dead, that is, and dig up the bodies of your neighbors who weren’t as fortunate as you.
That’s Ron Paul’s REAL America for you, patriots! Where we are all staunchly self-reliant no matter what, where, come what may, we don’t need no stinkin’ handouts from the big bad government and we stand on our own two feet at all times – even if it means standing on your own two feet in front of that stack of kindling that used to be your house, without even a pot to piss in.
And, of course, there was John Boehner, fresh from the golf course, his bourbon-and-branch “lunch” at the clubhouse and the tanning salon, eager to catch up with his heartless, soulless, mean-spirited and greedy Republican brethren Eric Cantor and Ron Paul screeching “Wait for me! I want to kick my fellow Americans when they’re down, too!!”
How do you feel about this, Americans? Do you truly believe that we all ought to be on our own when disaster strikes?
Are you one of those people to whom a disaster means nothing – unless it happens to you? It’s so very easy to feel this way when it isn’t your house that shifts off its foundation or collapses during a large earthquake – which as we now know, can happen anywhere; it’s so easy to shrug off three feet of filthy standing water in someone else’s living room, isn’t it? It’s so easy to look at pictures of splintered trees, smashed cars and the scoured remains of a cement house pad after a tornado like the recent one in Joplin, Missouri and shrug it off because hey, it wasn’t your house, right? It’s no problem for you to watch an elderly woman weeping as she despondently sifts through the ashes of the home in which she lived for 30 years looking for anything – anything – any precious keepsake of her life with her husband and children – after her home was destroyed in one of the brush fires that regularly scour the hills of our western states, isn’t it?
It’s so easy to tell yourself smugly that those people should have been better prepared – you know, like you! They should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps without having to suck off the government teat, to put their hands in your pockets and have your wealth “redistributed” to them.
That’s right, isn’t it, patriot? If something bad happened to these folks, well, they probably deserved it somehow – maybe they were Democrats, or black, or poor or even Muslims – and somehow in your tiny mind, that means they had it coming to them and it certainly ain’t your job to bail them out, right?
I weep as I write these words. I weep for those who lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina, and for the death of New Orleans. I weep for my fellow Americans on the East coast, some of whom will inevitably lose their homes and everything they own.
And most of all, I weep for the largest loss of all: the generous, loving spirit of America, where we once “lifted our lamp beside the Golden Door” and proclaimed our magnanimity to the world in a monument made visible in the form of the Statue of Liberty. I weep for America, where we once proudly took care of those less fortunate than we; where the elderly, the poor and the unemployed had some dignity and weren’t reduced to desperate beggars berated and insulted and forced to endure indignities like forced drug testing – as if being unemployed automatically turns you into a criminal and/or a drug addict. We said to our fellow Americans, “we know you’re going through a rough time right now – let us help you get back on your feet, so you can help the next citizen in need.”
That America is dead.
If the Statue of Liberty came alive today, first, she’d toss her torch and her tablet into New York harbor, step off her plinth and perhaps, stand for a moment and read the bronze plate on which is engraved those famous words:
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And then she might pause for a moment in thought and think about what she has seen for the last ten years here, in America, the fabled “land of the free.” Then I suspect she’d say a few dirty words (in French, of course) before she wrenched that bronze plate off the stone, crumpled it up like a ball of aluminum foil, and hurled it as far as she could out to sea. And then, she’d hoist her bronze skirts and stride off into the sea to drown herself, rather than lift Her fabled lamp over a golden door that no longer exists.