Somewhere in South Memphis, or Frayser, or Whitehaven there is a 17-year old kid who is every bit as smart as I am. However, life for him is different than life was for me at that age. He lives in a house with his brothers and sisters, supported by their mom who makes $13,500 a year at her two part-time jobs. The family constantly worries about getting so far behind on their utility bills that MLGW will cut power. He never met his dad, who left his mother 5 months before he was born.
A year from now he will graduate high school and it will be time to get a job and build a life of his own. Stocking the shelves at Save-a-Lot is an option, as is working the cash register at Taco Bell. If he works hard he might get promoted to assistant manager at either place, and eventually out-earn his mother by a few thousand a year.
Of course, there is a route to making the big money: Join a gang. Someone with his intelligence would be highly valued by a group like the Vice Lords. Of course, he would be expected to commit crimes, which could lead to him spending most of his life in prison. Worse, he could be shot and killed by a rival gang.
Getting a four-year liberal arts education after high school is not in the realm of possibility for this kid – not just because he can’t afford it, but because he has never been told that is an option for him; he can’t even conceive of such a thing. The owner of the rib shack around the corner from him dropped out of community college after a semester, but that is as much as he knows about college.
He can’t imagine getting a master’s degree. He can’t imagine being a graduate assistant teaching college classes, and then going on to teach college full-time for five years. He can’t imagine working for a company that builds rebate websites for companies like Coleman and Panasonic. He can’t imagine being a data engineer for a startup company that offers background checking services. He can’t imagine being a web developer supporting a card game played by millions.
I was able to achieve all those things because 1) I had the good fortune of being born into the middle class, and 2) from the time I was a little boy I was told I could – and should – be able to reach all of those goals.
Donald Trump may use “Make America great again” as his slogan, but you know what? Until that kid growing up in poverty has the same opportunities that I had, America is not as great as it should be. It is not living up to its potential.
When I was 15, I got kidney stones. Let me tell you, they hurt like hell. The pain has been compared to that of giving birth, and I believe it. Thank goodness I was covered by my mother’s insurance, and I was able to go to the emergency room and get drugs to dull the pain, and then the treatment I needed to pass the stones. I hope I never get kidney stones again, but if I do, my company has an excellent benefits package that will take care of me.
If the kid in the bad part of town gets kidney stones, what will happen? Maybe his mother will take him to The MED and face a mountain of medical bills she can’t pay. Maybe the kid won’t go to the hospital at all, and suffer in silence. Maybe his family can scrape together enough money to buy him a bag of weed to smoke to lessen the pain.
“But Paul,” you’re saying, “If America adopted your values, you would be taxed 50 percent.”
No. That is not true. My tax rate would actually drop. If one day my income soars to $10 million a year, yes, I would be taxed at 50 percent. But the thing is, if I made that much money, I would feel a responsibility to help those who weren’t given the breaks I have been given in life.
Perhaps the most important responsibility that a president of the United States has is to appoint Supreme Court justices. Justices do not have a term; they serve for life, or until they decide to step down. Therefore a president can have a huge effect on public policy for decades after he or she leaves office. For the past 40 years the court has leaned conservative. As many as four justices could retire during the next president’s first term, offering him or her to re-shape the court. I would like to see justices in the mold of John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, Earl Warren, and Harry Blackmun. Yes, I would like to see more women on the court. Yes, I would like to see more people of color on the court. But first and foremost I want people on the court who are staunch defenders of the individual’s rights.
For these reasons I support Bernie Sanders for president.
If you share the vision I do, I invite you to #FeelTheBern on Tuesday.