The Least Among Us

Why are people so angry at those in need?

Every day, quote after quote pops up on social media sites. Often it’s the words of Ben Franklin* (inaccurately accredited to the Bible):  “God helps those who helps themselves.” Yesterday I read “You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.” These are the words of a Presbyterian minister, but had been falsely presented as a quote from Abraham Lincoln as “proof” that our 16th President had much in common with today’s Conservative agenda. President Obama and Progressives are called socialists for attempting to find ways to assist and elevate the poor and middle class. Calls for drug testing recipients of welfare are growing despite the evidence that the programs are a complete waste of money. If we believed Conservatives, the only wasteful spending in our government can be found in entitlements for poor people. Mitt Romney just straight up said it– “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

Many are quick to label recipients of government assistance as lazy or worthless. Baseless accusations about “working the system” or  “looking for a hand out” are argued as an explanation for why people struggle. It’s as if Conservatives want “the poor” to be an “other” – a problem they did not create and therefore one they do not need to fix.

But the sad reality is many of us are one accident or one dreadful diagnosis away from needing all the help we can get. Some studies show that half of the American population is one pay check away from facing serious crisis.

And yet Republican leaders are attempting to cut these programs Americans so desperately rely on. They want to cut food stamps — forcing at least 3 million people out of the program. They support cuts in WIC, Meals on Wheels and the School Lunch programs. They want to appeal the Affordable Health Care Act, a law that has eliminated preexisting conditions and lifetime caps already for American children, and will provide that security to almost all Americans by 2014. They attempted to stop the unemployment benefit extension earlier this year at a time when people are finding it incredibly difficult to find work.

In fact, Republicans will have you believe deficit reduction is their primary concern — and then refuse to entertain ANY cuts to military spending or to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest 2%. And when President Obama pushed for the Buffet Rule to pass through congress, only one Republican voted for it. So are they really concerned about deficit reduction? Or just protecting the wealthiest among us?

How is this race for the White House even close? Is America not paying attention? Does the general population believe it has more in common with the 1% than with the 99%? Or is it fear that drives us to somehow more closely associate ourselves with the dream of being incredibly wealthy than with the more realistic fact that we could one day need help ourselves – that we could easily become one of  “them”?

We are, most of us, closer to the Welfare line than we are to installing an elevator in one of our mansions for easier access to all of our vehicles. So what do you say we spend a little more time reflecting and understanding our fellow Americans down on their luck. Let’s figure out new ways to improve the safety nets and successfully help move people forward. Let’s accept that it could so easily be us standing in line for help and treat each other with more respect instead of so much distrust.

A wise leader once said to his followers: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me… whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” What socialist was it who spoke those words?

Oh yeah, that’s right…that was Jesus.


* Ben Franklin’s quote originated from Algernon Sydney in 1698 in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government.