Did you know that nearly half of all members of Congress are millionaires?
That startling fact came from the Center for Responsive Politics, but there is more. In 2008 and 2009, when Americans were feeling the woes of the recession, congressional members’ personal wealth increased significantly – by an astonishing 16 percent!
Knowing the economic status of those in Congress really helps me understand their indecisiveness and lackadaisical approach to resolving the nation’s debt ceiling problem.
Perhaps having been poor would help congressional members on both sides reach some sort of conclusion. Maybe it is their lack of empathy for the poor that makes members of Congress so reluctant to reach some sort of deal. Perhaps they really do not believe President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when they explain that failure to raise the ceiling would be “catastrophic” for the global economy. Or maybe since more than half the members of Congress are millionaires, they don’t care that senior citizens could lose their Social Security checks as soon as next month if a deal isn’t reached.
I have never quite understood how people can be so unsympathetic to the plight of others. As I reflect on how truly oblivious some people can be towards others’ problems, I am reminded of a blog I read recently.
While I can’t remember the person’s name, I do remember she made it a point to repeatedly mention that she was white. I recall her being a teacher or some sort of lecturer. This woman’s blog captured my attention because she told the story of how years ago she had a vehicle that was not the most reliable. Her car often broke down on her at the most inopportune times. She reflected on three times in particular when her car broke down. Each of these instances were years ago, long before cell phones became the commonality that they are today.
This woman explained how she would stand alongside the road either waving her arms or holding her fingers to her ear in the classic “I need a telephone” stance. During each of the three separate times when her car broke, she would watch as white people in new or luxury cars would drive past. The drivers would either ignore her, or they would “glare” at her in an unsympathic way.
As this woman continued to detail her experiences with her unreliable car, she explained who did stop to help. Each time it was either a Black or Hispanic person in a vehicle that was barely making it down the road itself. She described in detail one instance when her saving grace was an older Black man who drove a “rickety” truck with his 9-year-old granddaughter as his only passenger prior to picking up the stranded white lady. The elderly man helped the woman fix her flat tire.
The woman who wrote the blog explained how it took someone who knew what it was like to have an unreliable vehicle to actually stop, have compassion and help someone else who was in a tough situation.
Unfortunately, because some people have been afforded more opportunities, or are blessed in ways that others may not be, they sometimes do not understand the severity of certain issues. Issues like those that a single mother faces everyday as she struggles to provide a decent living for her children.
Issues like the elderly grandmother who is on a fixed income and finds it impossible to pay for both her rent and her medication. An issue like the ambitious college student who has survived the lures and dangers of the ghetto, enrolled in college and now has to halt his studies because his university has increased tuition that now exceeds the amount of federal loans he is eligible to receive.
People all over struggle – it’s a very unfortunate, but true reality. The key is that we always humble ourselves and remember that our blessings can be here one moment and gone the next.
It would behoove our congressional members on both sides of the political aisle to consider their less fortunate constituents when hot-topic items such as increasing the debt ceiling arise. James Baldwin once said, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
That statement was made more than 50 years ago, but it rings true today. Washington politicians need to understand the severity of this debt crisis. With all the political rhetoric taking place now, if they do understand, I am not sure that they would care.
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