My name is...well that really doesn't matter.
What matters is that I am a conflicted American.
You see, I am a Democrat. I am a Democrat, in part, because my parents are democrats, and their parents were democrats, and their parents - well... if they were able to vote, probably would have been Republicans but that's a whole other story.
I am a Democrat because I am a Chicagoan. Growing up in the 1980s as a Black girl on the south side of Chicago made for an interesting childhood.
One of my earliest memories was when Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago died. I remember my parents crying. I remember looking at the television coverage of the thousands of Chicagoans who stood in line to pass his grave in the rain and frigidness of late November. I remember going to church and hearing the church folk yell, "They killed him! They can't ever let a Black man be in power!"
Now, before you mock Blacks for thinking that White people killed the mayor, you have to understand that during that time everything in Chicago was seen through the lens of race. Racial polarization along physical, political, and philosophical lines was not only an accepted practice but it was the law of the land.
Yet, despite the constant power struggles that were (and still are) ever present in Chicago politics, you only had one decision to make: Are you a White Democrat or are you a Black Democrat?
Needless to say, I chose the latter.
Yet, as an adult I sometimes struggle with my party affiliation and wonder why my heart will never let me abandon my "birthright" of being a Democrat.
The truth is that I think big government is a bad idea.
Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Motor Vehicles...
When you see and hear those words, what comes to mind? Long lines, a defunct system, inefficient operations, and belligerent people behind a glass window.
Most of us spend our entire lives working hard so that we will never have to interact with the government. So why do we support the very existence of these institutions and programs for the most vulnerable people in our society?
The truth is that I think that government promotes waste.
Forget earmarks and pork barrel spending; ask someone who works for any city, state, or federal agency what it takes for them to get a new pack of pencils and you will understand the true culprit behind government waste.
The process usually looks something like this:
- Step 1: Call the dispatcher at “Central Management Services" to order a pack of new pencils.
- Step 2: The dispatcher connects you with the Superintendent of “Central Management Services” because he doesn’t know the process.
- Step 3: The Superintendent of “Central Management Services” tells you to call the "Supply Department".
- Step 4: You call the "Supply Department".
- Step 5: The “Supply Department” tells you to complete Form 229-A which is the "Order Form for New Pencils" in order for them to process your request.
- Step 6: You ask where you can find “Form 229-A” and you are directed to the “Forms Department”.
- Step 7: You go to the "Forms Department" and complete Form 229-A.
- Step 8: You return to the “Supply Department” only to find that everyone has decided to take an early lunch and will not return for several hours.
The above story may sound painfully obnoxious but it happens every day in a bureaucracy near you.
The government doesn't work well for most people who work within it so I am often baffled by the notion of developing even more agencies and governmental departments (to do God knows what), no matter how great the intentions might be.
Despite its efforts, government is often too big and too slow to respond to the needs of citizens in a timely manner and in the cases where it does move swiftly it can't be held accountable for the money it spends or the laws that it hastefully enacts. We saw this to be true with the enactment of the Patriot Act and TARP.
The truth is that I think that most entitlement programs are extremely flawed.
Let’s look at TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families), better known as "Welfare".
The argument that I am making has nothing to do with whether people deserve or should be entitled to Welfare, but focuses on how such programs create disincentives for people to work, receive education and training, thus - encouraging them to stay dependent on welfare.
In its current state, the benefit level equates to less than $8 a person a day. If you have a family of three, then that gives the family $24 a day to survive. TANF mandates that the head of the household work outside the home for a predetermined number of hours to get their check. More times than not, due to a lack of education, the jobs that TANF recipients end up getting provide only a minimal wage. However, as their earned income increases, their TANF support decreases. Therefore, in the absence of a TANF recipient finding a six figure job, most recipients keep their earned income to a minimum to remain eligible for the program and benefits. Poor people may be broke but they know good math.
My point is not to debate the need for programs like Welfare because one of the core tenants of my faith is to help those in need. I do question, however, the true benefit that such programs have in changing the long term landscape of poverty in our country.
So why stay?
Why stay in a party that promotes flawed economic policies and makes renewing my driver's license so painful?
I stay because the Republican Party gives me no choice.
In fact, they make it too easy to stay.
Time and time again, election after election, they deem themselves more concerned with protecting arcane notions of what it means to be "American" rather than accept the fact that the face of our country is no longer predominately white and male.
I stay because I don't think that government should have a say in who I, or anyone else, marries and what I do with my uterus.
I stay because I don't agree with allowing people to sneak across the border to clean our homes but force them to go back when they want to attend our schools.
Most of all, even with all its flaws, I stay for a reason that our President expressed on Tuesday night during the State of the Union address:
"I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed, that government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more."
We cannot negate the impact that institutionalized racism and bigotry has had on many in America. For that reason, I believe that it is all of our duty to continue to lift up others who cannot lift themselves out of their situations. And though we may be far from the perfect solution, we owe it to the dream of what our country can be to keep trying, to keep helping, and to keep believing that we can be better.