It was 2001 and I had just moved to Massachusetts from Western New York. I was puzzled at how many people wanted to know if I was a Yankees fan. The fact is that I don’t follow baseball at all and had no idea that it was so important to the locals. I guess they were afraid of having a traitor or spy in their midst. The reality was that I did feel like a spy, but not because of baseball.
At that time, I was a Rush Limbaugh listening, Fox News watching, National Review subscribing Republican who saw moving to Massachusetts as just a few degrees shy of moving to Moscow. In my thirst for conservative news and entertainment while I was on the road during the long hours of my sales job in the Bay State, I discovered a talk radio station where I could identify with the “best and brightest” audience of Jay Severin. My car radio was glued to WTKK which, coincidently, meant that I sometimes stumbled on the radio program of Margery Egan and Jim Braude.
It was during one of those moments listening to the Eagan and Braude program that I heard Jim Braude say, “Hey, I like paying my taxes!” As a right winger, I thought, okay, where’s the punch line to this obvious joke? Instead, I heard Jim Braude list a long line of services and people in his town, state and country that he was proud to support and grateful to have at his disposal. It made me pause and think for a while. As evidenced by this post, I never forgot it. Still, I dismissed it as liberal nonsense at the time as I awaited Severin’s indoctrination of ignorance that is the stuff of right wing radio.
In 2002, in the space of a few weeks, I lost my job and my wife got get sick. We had spent much of our savings on moving to Massachusetts. We had two children in grade school. . We were not broke, but close to it. In 2002 we paid nothing in federal taxes because both my wife and I were out of work. At one time, both of us were in the hospital. Yes, we were “takers”.
To quote Mitt Romney, “ There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax…”My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
I started to work when I was 16. I worked through college and kept working after college, never once asking for a handout. I was a truck driver, janitor, waiter, dairy farm worker, car salesman, dishwasher, apple picker, assembly line worker, tennis court installer, pet shop cleaner, and more. My resume looked like the first season of Dirty Jobs.
Then, at 46, after working my ass off for 30 years, I was in a very bad spot.
I was a Republican and I believed that anyone can make it in America if they just try hard enough. Since I was not making it, my Republican paradigm dictated that I was a moral failure. We were on Mass Health, our children got free lunch from the town. I remember walking out of the unemployment office in Framingham and hearing a car drive by as someone shouted, “get a job, loser”. I felt guilty each time I went for medical treatment, or to get glasses for my son and hear the receptionist say, “May I please have your Mass Health card?” When the local food pantry came by with a delivery I asked them to leave. I did not want the neighbors to know. Depression set in. I was hospitalized.
According to Mitt and the Republicans I felt “entitled” and I was not “taking responsibility for my life” This coming from man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who paid off his college debt by selling off his stock portfolio as I paid off mine by cleaning public toilets.
Once out of the hospital, I began the slow process of building my life back together. Yes, I did feel “entitled” to help. I had worked and paid in for thirty years and I needed help for a few months to get back on my feet for another thirty years where I could continue to pay in and help others.
After a few months, my wife and I both got well, both went back to work, and things got better. I continued to listen to guys like Severin but I had these nagging thoughts from time to time, the sort of thing that cognitive dissonance brings about. I eventually left the Republicans around the time of the Iraq War and when the National Review essentially fired Christopher Buckley for his frank comments about Sarah Palin, I cancelled my subscription. I voted for Barak Obama as an independent and when Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy, I went straight to my town hall and became a registered Democrat.
2002, Yes, that was the year that, we did not have to pay taxes.
On April 15th and every day I hear someone complain about having to do the right thing and pay their taxes, I do what Jim Braude did and tell them to be responsible and thankful for what they have, what they are receiving, and those they are able to help.