The young woman who cuts my hair, a wonderfully smart and self-possessed 20-something who chose hair styling over a Ph.D. she once pursued, told me recently that she had to enter an experimental clinical trial to get the chemotherapy she needs. There is no social safety net for people like her.
"I feel like my government doesn't care about my life," she said.
That's right. It doesn't.
And every time you hear Sen. John McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin talk sneeringly about Sen. Barack Obama wanting to be "Redistributionist-in-Chief," know that what they are really saying is that government shouldn't care.
The "spreading the wealth" drumbeat is McCain's last-ditch effort to win the presidency. The boo-line is supposed to suggest that Obama's plan to tax America's wealthiest citizens at pre-Bush-tax-cut rates is socialistic and confiscatory.
McCain is counting on the American people not being smart enough to make the next deductive step in reasoning, which is that a government that refuses to tax substantial wealth has three choices: It can tax the nonwealthy to make up the difference. It can slash spending and abandon promises made to citizens, such as providing national security, maintaining programs like Medicare and veterans benefits, keeping the national parks open, etc. Or it can borrow the money it needs from other countries and rack up debts until our nation starts looking like a bad long-term investment to the rest of the world — this would be the George W. Bush model.
But McCain claims that he will eliminate the nation's soaring budget deficits by the end of his first term, and that he won't raise taxes on the middle class beyond taxing the value of their health insurance, which means gutting government is his only course.
McCain promises to be the next Social Darwinist-in-Chief. He would manacle government, ensuring that it does not have the revenues to make the lives of my hair stylist, the local waitress and yes, even most plumbers, better and more secure. McCain's plan is to put an exclamation point on the "Ownership Society" a.k.a. the "You're On Your Own Society" launched by Bush and his neoconservative backers, where your life is valued by the size of your bank account.
McCain's demonization of Obama's comments to "spread the wealth around" also says that he would rather win than lead. It attempts to deceive people into thinking that government can run on pixie dust.
Redistributing wealth is what all nations do to one degree or another. In fact, there is no other way to describe the recent $700-billion rescue of the nation's financial sector. Here, with McCain's support, we have redistributed wealth upwards from average Americans to the institutions that employ a big chunk of the nation's multimillionaires.
I'm not saying that the bailout wasn't necessary, just that if McCain wants to rail against redistribution, this is a much more appealing target. Obama wants to spread the wealth by retiring those Bush tax cuts that benefited the wealthy in order to pay for reforms to the nation's pockmarked health insurance system.
So let's see, which is more deserving of McCain's puffed-up fury: saving the jobs of investment bankers who brought ruin upon themselves due to unbridled greed, or protecting the health of America's uninsured children?
Which smacks more of the "evils" of socialized government: taking part ownership in a raft of banks, essentially partially nationalizing the banking sector, or creating an affordable public health insurance program as an alternative for Americans who don't get health coverage at work?
There was a time when McCain cared about responsible government. In 2001, speaking on the Bush tax cuts, McCain said: "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us." But that was when he was a redistributionist. Now he's just a desperate candidate in search of a winning strategy. Let's hope he hasn't found one.