Walking into a San Francisco bar, I saw Chico, a guy I knew in the 1960s. We had run into each other at anti-war marches, sit-ins for equal hiring practices and other popular political activities of the times. Over beer, we overheard a nearby couple discussing the November 2 elections. “Man,” I told him, assuming he still had those hippy, lefty values of the old days, “the Democrats haven’t sold themselves well on the jobs bills, the health plan incomplete as it is; and in the good work they’ve done keeping teachers in schools and helping students get loans.”
He sort of half sniffed, half sneered. “I’m not a Democrat.”
“Yes,” I continued, assuming he was a Green, or Peace or Freedom Party member, “but I assume you’ll still vote for them because if the Republicans win they’ll start reducing taxes for the wealthiest while cutting back on government spending for the neediest. Same old crap and we’ll go from bad to terrible.”
He sipped his beer and turned to me. “I’ve had it with the liberal tax and spend Democrats. Year after year they piss away hard-earned dollars on welfare cheats and lazy people.”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
“You’re a Republican? Hey, I remember you when you got food stamps – along with half the people I knew. I think I even remember you standing next to me on the unemployment line. You think unemployment insurance should be abolished along with food stamps?”“I can’t believe you still fall for that bleeding heart line,” he responded, without not so much as a smile. “The poor have had their chance and they’ve blown it.”
“Are you kidding? The poor get laid off, evicted, denied health coverage. The Republicans represent the wealthiest people and hypocritically pretend to speak for everyone. I mean who but multimillionaires and fanatic soldiers of God on Earth would even glance at GOP candidates? Go back to what Reagan’s voodoo economics created and then W. Bush who converted a Clinton surplus into a trillion plus deficit,” I nearly shouted.
“Really?” he said. “Don’t you think if God intended everyone to share he would have given us guidance to do so? You think I should fork over my money to people who can’t pay their mortgages? Where does it say in the Bible we should take care of deadbeats?”
“Now you even believe in God?” I sneered. “But not Jesus and the meek inheriting the earth? You’d rather see them on the street? They didn’t shut down the factories or construction projects. They lost their jobs through no fault of their own. That’s why they couldn’t pay off their loans. I suppose you’d deny them health coverage as well.”
“Darn right I would. Obama’s health plan encourages euthanasia,” he said accusingly. “John Boehner, the House Republican Leader, warned the bill would take us down a treacherous path. They’d pull the tubes on my grandma.”
Ridiculous,” I sneered. “Your grandmother’s been dead for decades and the bill doesn’t force anyone to even discuss that end of life stuff.”
“In this country,” he puffed his chest, “with all its opportunities people should stand or fall on their own. That’s America. I feel no obligation to share any of my hard earned money with those that don’t have it or pissed it away or get laid off or whatever.”
“When I knew you in the 60s you lived off the dole,” I said, recalling him as an occasional street person who smoked weed and dropped acid. “How’d you turn your life around?”
He sipped the last of his beer and faced me when he said: “I made my fortune the old-fashioned way.”
“No kidding. You opened a factory or some dot.com business?”
“I inherited it,” he said proudly. “My father cashed in on his informal dealing of pot, acid, and speed, and then all the uppers, downers and sideways drugs of the time. He invested his profits in San Francisco real estate, sold at the height of the market and now I live in Piedmont [ritzy section of Oakland] thanks to his hard-earned money.”
“Don’t you have any of your old values or ideals?
“I still remember Marx said ‘material conditions determine consciousness’.” He should have added ‘immediately’. “I feel no guilt or remorse. I didn’t understand how good it would feel to be rich – but having money also costs money and I’m not about to give mine away by voting Democrat.”
“So, you’ve re-written the old social contract of citizens’ obligations to society to suit your new position of wealth? You’ve even done away with equivalent of the social sanity clause.”
“Of course,” he replied, “everyone knows there’s no sanity clause.”
SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. CounterPunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD