“No,” I Told My Friend. “Federal Aid for Sandy Doesn’t Mean We’re on the Verge of Socialism.”

My friend Dee wants to start a business selling tee shirts with a special message. A native of South America, she wants people to know that she and millions like her are legal. Dee became an American citizen at least 15 years ago. Still, she struggles with her self-concept. She’s had too many encounters with people who have demeaned her accent, denigrated her looks, and just been pissy about the fact that she’s different. In fact, she said, “People treat me like I’m stupid because of my accent.”

I remember my European immigrant grandmother, whose English classes consisted of watching “Password,” a popular TV game show back in the ’60s. And my grandfather, who after receiving notice of deportation due to being an illegal, sent a letter to President Roosevelt pleading for amnesty for the sake of his children.

Lately, Dee and I have been talking about the upcoming election. Coming from a socialist country, she’s concerned that Conservative pundits may be right, and fears that President Obama is leading the nation down same path.

I know she’s been influenced by people at church who think Obama is the devil incarnate. She also listens to “talk radio.”

And so at the same time she’s worried about the federal government taking over the country’s businesses, she’s also concerned about being discriminated against.

“Who do you think brought about civil rights?” I asked. If the southern states had had their way, and been able to exercise their state’s rights indefinitely, we’d still have separate bathrooms for Blacks and Whites.

There’s a reason for our federal government, I told her. It’s all written out in the Constitution. And the grand thing about our Constitution is that it is a living, breathing document, meant to keep up with the times.

People who say government needs to stay out of the lives its citizens are not living in reality.

Despite past complaints of FEMA’s inefficiency, I’m proud of Obama’s promise of  federal aid for the hardest hit areas in Hurricane Sandy’s path. I’m proud that the subways are being pumped out by the Army Corps of Engineers. And I’m glad the National Guard is rescuing victims stranded in their homes. In a democratic society, we should all be proud to pitch in tax dollars for such causes.

Mitt Romney minimalizes the grave seriousness of people’s problems following such a disaster when he tells the story about all the players on his football team cleaning up a part of the field after a game. If we all work together and do our part, the job will get done, was his message. It’s a nice idea, but I hardly think a bucket brigade will get the subways pumped out, the power turned back on, or homes rebuilt.

If, as Romney suggests, federal aid should be funneled into the private sector, the profit factor would rear its ugly head. And restoring people back to their homes and places of business should not be a profit-driven effort. I have visions of Blackwater at the ready during hurricane season. Forget the Red Cross. Send in mercenaries paid for out of tax payers’ pockets. I can imagine the private sector gouging the government for rescue services, food and emergency supplies. It makes me sick.

A New York “cheese pie” place is currently exhibiting the philosphy I espouse: Still without power, it’s had its employees making pies in the dark. Slices are still $2.50, same as always, the owner said in a radio interview. And that’s the right thing to do.

I just came back from visiting my daughter in New York City. The thrill of learning to navigate the subway system over those ten days pretty much fizzled after Sandy. Now I sit at home, far from the hurricane’s path, listening – no, glued – to coverage of the storm’s devastating aftermath. I search the Internet for local TV coverage, so I can see what’s happening, and I keep in touch with my daughter. Blessedly, she missed the full force of the storm in Brooklyn and never lost power.

I had been proud of myself for learning the ropes, getting a MetroCard and figuring out how to transfer trains alongside New Yorkers who ride the subways every day. But now I am reminded of the fragile balance between everyday life and disaster. At any moment, the axis can tip.

I’m proud of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for his apolitical and genuine praise of President Obama. Getting basic services like power and transportation operating again is the primary goal of both state and federal governments, and taxpayers should not begrudge mobilizing federal resources to the fullest extent to make this happen.

I might still try to convince Dee that the federal government isn’t a bad thing and that we’re not on the verge of becoming a dictatorship. I want her to be informed when she votes. Maybe I’ll just share this little quote from the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s the federal government that guarantees her those rights. Even if she wants to start a tee shirt business. FFG



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