“Hey, Hooper. I see you’re still writing political stuff. I hoped you’d get smarter.” He smirked. “Don’t look like it.”
I had met him before somewhere, or somebody just like him. Same look. Went like this.
“Yeah, I said, “still writing. Hoping for the best.”
“Still a far left-winger liberal Dem, I’d bet.” Pinched his nostrils together to indicate an odor he didn’t like. He winked.
“Not sure what you mean by far-left winger. I am a registered Democrat.”
“Same deal,” he laughed. “You’re a socialist opposed to individual freedom. Anti-capitalist. Pro-regulation. Big-government fan. Gotta steal money from hard-working taxpayers to help welfare cheats. Believer in the global warming hoax. You hate Donald Trump. Greatest President since George whatsisname — at least since Honest Abe. Hey, don’t talk god, guns, and gays. Or abortion. I get pee’d off.”
“Okay,” I said. “What’s socialism? How do you define that?”
“Holy crap. Can’t believe you’re asking,” he snorted. “Socialism. Communism starting with an ‘S’. Hell, everybody knows that. You don’t?”
“Well,” I offered, “You benefit more than you apparently know from some degree of socialist reform.”
He waved a hand of dismissal. “Oh, B.S! I have more stuff to do than listen to your crap.”
“Have you read much about the history of socialism in our country – let’s call it social justice reform?” I asked.
“I’m not much of a reader,” he replied. “I watch TV mostly. Get some stuff off email. Listen to Rush Limbaugh on talk radio. I like Fox. Hannity tells me all anybody needs to know about politics. Something he misses, Tucker Carlson will fill me in. ”
I looked him square in the eye: “No, I’m talking about old books written during and about our country’s history. Like Upton Sinclair’s fact-based 1906 novel “The Jungle” about how horribly working men, women, and kids were treated in the meat-packing industry. If that’s too much work, look for articles about the 1914 Ludlow, Colo., massacre of hard-working coal miners If you don’t want to buy a book about that horror story (there are several) have a kid help you access the webpage at Colorado Public Radio. Here’s the link: tinyurl.com/y57n9f5h
“And please don’t stop there. Buy a copy (or borrow one from your tax-supported public library) of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” May take you a month to wade through it, but if you do, you’ll be a helluva lot smarter about the benefits of, yes, necessary socialist reforms to an unregulated, greedy capitalist religion. You could learn how working people like yourself still benefit.“
“You actually expect me to read tired old junk like that? C’mon, Hooper, get real. That would take more time than anybody’s got. I thought we were gonna talk about socialism.”
“Well,” I said, “I’ll give you a short list. Tell me what you think we should give up:
“How about Social Security and Medicare? How many older people depend on those two to make ends meet. Nursing home care in Kansas costs over $60,000 annually. About two thirds of nursing home residents soon go broke and end up depending on Medicaid. Medicare, you surely know, doesn’t cover long-term care. Incidentally, congressional Republicans have proposed steep cuts to Medicaid.”
My listener was maybe mid 40s, not over 50. I’m guessing he figured he’d always have enough money to take care of himself. Not have to depend on anybody for anything until he was, say, around 100 and found dead in his backyard garden, a smile on his face, and a cold beer clutched in his hand.
“No big deal, “ he said.
I wondered if he’d ever had a relative or friend in a nursing home. How often if ever he had visited. I continued.
“Well, today you do benefit from a 40 hour week with extra-pay for over-time. You get at least a minimum wage. There are child labor laws to protect your kids. Or other people’s. You probably enjoy paid vacations. If you don’t, you should. You enjoy cleaner air and water.
“You have arguably safer working conditions than most workers endured in our past. You have effective ways to protest if conditions are unsafe or if workers are being treated unfairly. By that, I mean, with the help of Departments of Labor at both federal and state levels. For example, in Kansas the DOL administers the unemployment Insurance program and state workers compensation system. It enforces wage and hour laws and child labor laws. It handles workplace safety and health issues.”
“You probably benefited from tax-payer supported public schools and universities. You can enjoy public roads, bridges and highways maintained by government workers. You have access to elected officials to protest if the work is not done timely and well. You also have the right to organize in peaceful protest without being bullied or shot by hired militia or by a government sold out to rich capitalists. And... ” He looked not just bored, but frustrated. I stopped.
“Well, crap! I was hoping you’d say something about socialism,” he said.
I had. He missed it.
Bob Hooper is a fourth generation Western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.