Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quarterbacks and the compassion gap

As divided as we are politically these days, I think the compassion gap is even worse. And the two are tied more directly than even I ever imagined.

I’ll admit, I’m usually one to sniff out the politics in any situation. I see trends and correlations that may or may not be there. Many times, there is no relation. So I try not to take it too far.

Still, it’s difficult to hear or read what liberals and conservatives have to say, and not deduce that their hearts are in very different places. Ways they might not even catch. Ways that occur only artificially, in an age of misinformation.

“If you work full-time, you should be able to pay your bills and have health insurance.”

My brother said this to me last night. In an ideal nation, where people place a premium on working hard and earning one’s keep, this would be a self-evident statement.

But we’re not there right now. For every person who agrees with my brother’s sentiment, I can find at least one other who’ll argue it. They’ll say it depends on the job or some other irrelevant value judgment. Or that it’s not an employer’s duty to provide health care for their employees.

That last line of thought is particularly acute with today’s conservatives. So intoxicated are they with the idea of entrepreneurs and “job creators,” they’ve decided that no one else has any worth. Including, sometimes, themselves.

To put it in football terms, this de facto feudalism is like saying the quarterback is the only player of any value. The owners say it enough and the people start to believe it. Aspiring players all vie to be quarterback. People support a pay grid that favors quarterbacks while throwing token bones to every other position. Players in other positions see themselves as failed quarterbacks who deserve their terrible lot. If a lineman gets injured, he has to pay for his own health care, because he didn’t try hard enough to be a quarterback. When the team wins, all glory goes to the quarterback. When they lose, it’s always the other positions’ fault.

But of course, a football team can’t be all quarterbacks. They’re important, for sure. However, teams also need various skill positions filled by players willing and able to fulfill their duties. All players deserve credit and a decent standard of living for their role in making the team a winner. They shouldn’t be made to feel inferior for not being a quarterback. And any good quarterback will be cognizant of their teammates’ contributions rather than portray himself as the sole reason the team succeeds.

Nobody of any political persuasion tends to favor an arrogant, me-first player — in fact, among people I know, it’s usually the conservatives who complain the most about there being no “I” in “TEAM.” But when it comes to the ultimate team sport — democracy — suddenly “I” is their favorite letter. As in, “I got mine.” Even if they haven’t got anything.

I get that some people naturally feel this way, but I think the conservative media — bankrolled by the people who benefit the most from class warfare — has taken such ignorance to mainstream levels. Time was, deficit talk came mostly from learned economists. These days, it’s every Joe Redneck’s first line of defense against social programs. They say too that unions are the vile scourge of America, as are public servants, or government, or minorities, or anything else that keeps power from being concentrated entirely in the hands of America’s cabal of arrogant quarterbacks.

The most dastardly effect of the right-wing spin machine is the compartmentalization it allows. It’s made compassion selective for so many. Whereas many people know firsthand or through others the value of assistance in a time of struggle and support that assistance accordingly, others will insist that they needed it and others abuse it. Again, the “I got mine” mindset.

These days, the compassion gap is as strong as it ever has been politically. When one persuasion argues that working people should have a decent standard of living no matter how much money they make, and the other side complains about health care reform, unions, the deficit, the government and the people themselves, it’s not hard to tell whose fantasy football team is better off on the field.

If we want America to be a nation of hard workers, we have to make work pay off. And making it pay off starts with valuing ourselves and our citizen teammates.

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