Dear Paul Ryan: We Are Not “Looters”

paul ryanDear Congressman Ryan:

I know that you and your running mate don’t like people like me because we’re not rich, white, evangelical and Republican.

It’s not a secret and you don’t have to pretend otherwise.

After all, last week I watched video of Mr. Romney telling me in no uncertain terms that I am lazy, gripped by an “entitlement” mentality so I prefer a handout over doing an honest day’s work. OK, I admit that I’ve never worked the way he did, looting companies for fun and profit, and doing so well at it that I needed to hide my earnings in a dizzying maze of off-shore accounts in numerous countries set up by fancy lawyers and accountants. It’s alright that Mr. Romney and I have very different definitions of “honest day’s work.”

But on Wednesday I found out you’ve been giving speechescalling me a “looter” because I am homeless and sometimes need help from friends, food banks, charities and even the government. And not just me: You say that my grandparents and parents were looters, as well, because they received Social Security checks and carried Medicare cards after they retired from a lifetime of work.

I can shrug off your insults but I won’t have you defaming what my family contributed to the United States during their lifetimes.

Who Loots?

My paternal grandfather, an immigrant to the US, fought in both World Wars – he lied about being old enough to enlist in 1917, and lied about being young enough to sign up in 1942 – before he quit working at 68 when the wounds he suffered in the trenches of France in 1918 finally made his left leg totally useless to him. He actually served in three wars: Before fleeing Russia, he was kidnapped as a child and forced to be a cook’s helper in the Tsar’s army.

My maternal grandfather worked until he was 72, when he got tired and decided to rest a little which Social Security helped him do. Seventy-two was also the age my dad retired and started collecting Social Security after paying into it his entire working life.

I dare you to call any of them “looters” to my face.

You also described veterans the same way, men and women who risked their lives for this country and need medical or psychiatric help from the government as a result of their service.

My dad was in the Navy during World War II and, yes, he relied on VA hospitals and doctors for medical care until Ronald Reagan tore up the nation’s social contract with WW2 vets: You fight for America and we’ll take care of your medical needs. The Gipper changed eligibility rules when dad was in his fifties. Until he qualified for Medicare, Pop had to pay for all of the lingering ailments caused by those years in the Pacific when he was being shot at during one island landing after another, and being dive bombed, and narrowly surviving two separate Kamikaze attacks on his ship.

You were a wee tyke at the time it happened but there are Vietnam veterans still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, the killer chemical sprayed on them by their own government which then took a few decades to ‘fess up to its responsibility. There are veterans of the Gulf War and Afghanistan and Iraq who need care today only because they voluntarily donned their nation’s uniform.

According to you, we all are looting the Treasury and, by implication, your own wallet. Does this mean you plan to repay the Social Security survivor benefits that helped you go to university? Probably not; your hero Ayn Rand(also collected Social Security checks as soon as she could and for as long as she could.

No Soup For You!

You don’t seem to have much use for charitable giving or deeds, either, even though that’s how the likes me are surviving the economic tsunami brought on by four decades of government policies created by the likes of you.

According to you, altruism is immoral and it’s every man, woman, child, working stiff, crippled veteran and hunched-over granny for themselves. Your attitude makes the “soup Nazi” on Seinfeld seem like a cuddly department store Santa by comparison.

I ended up homeless because of a prolonged illness followed by a 2%-er who embezzled my life savings so he could become a 1%-er like you, and an accident where I was run down by a car while I was crossing the street. Now, the only way I am able to sleep with a roof over my head, eat at least one meal a day, keep myself clothed and cope with my situation is thanks to the altruism of friends and even strangers as well as charities and government.

Yup, government – the very institution you deplore.

It is only because of government money that the place where I sometimes stand outside more than an hour waiting for a cheese sandwich at lunch can feed the needy. I suppose the only place you’ve ever waited in line for a meal was at your friend’s old Signatures Restaurantbut for those of us who were middle class until recently, standing in the hot summer sun for a sandwich is a humiliating experience that we endure because it’s the only way we eat on some days.

Alien Concept

It’s called sharing, Mr. Ryan, a concept you shrug your PX-90 enhanced Atlas shoulders at. Paying it forward. Lending a hand. Helping someone up. It’s what citizens of a nation do for each other.

That’s a totally alien concept to you, apparently.

So I’m sure that you’d be totally puzzled by – and probably have no use for – two of my great uncles, Joe and Norman  because their view of America was so different than yours.

When they bought a small, struggling steel mill in the late-1940s, they didn’t downsize the workforce and offshore the operations, or set up complicated foreign subsidiaries to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Instead, what they did must seem unthinkable to you: They invited in a union to organize and represent the workers so the guys actually making the steel could better share in the rewards of their grimy, backbreaking work. You see, not everyone thinks “what’s mine is mine and you can get stuffed.”

Telling citizens to get stuffed never was the United States yet, somehow, you lost sight of this basic principle – so much so, your party fields hundreds of candidates in all 50 states who have twisted what it means to be a citizen inside out.

To you, being a citizen means nothing other than the passport you carry. (If you have one; more than half of all members of Congress have never bothered to get a passport.)

To me, and to a vast majority of my fellow countrymen, being a citizen means we’re all in this together. In the days when I enjoyed a good life, I held out a hand; now that I’m not, someone holds out a hand to me.

I don’t think you even get the idea. Worse than being a danger or a run-of-the-mill goofball, you’re just a sad excuse for a person.

Sincerely,

Charley James

Author and journalist Charley James’ next book is about his experience becoming homeless. When published, Charley will donate a percentage of his advance and royalties to homeless organizations.

More articles by Charley James

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Follow Charley on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles. Posted: Saturday, 22 September 2012 Charley’s next book is about his experience being homeless. When published, he will donate a percentage of his royalties to homeless organizations.

Published: Tbhursday, 27 September 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on September 27, 2012
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About Charley James

If you are born in Milwaukee, chances are you're born a Democrat. So, I gravitated naturally to liberal politics as an activist and a journalist. I've been writing since I was eight and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative jouralist. For much of the past year, I've been writing about homelessness - America's immorality play.