By KIM POINDEXTER
Years ago, right before my husband and I were married, we got behind a woman in a cashier’s line at what local residents then called “the old Reasor’s,” corner of Choctaw and College. The gal was portly, and was wearing what looked to be expensive clothing. She also had at least a 2-karat rock on her left hand, which the cashier admired. The woman paid with food stamps, waddled out the door, and drove away in a late-model Lincoln Continental.
I keep most of my snark to myself these days, but back then, I was still an immature 20-something. “Did you see that?” I railed to my husband and anyone else within earshot. “That woman’s ripping off the taxpayers!” My hastily-rendered judgment went against what my fiancé, a “cradle Catholic,” had been taught. Rising to the woman’s defense, he said, “You don’t know her situation. Maybe she just lost her job and already had that stuff. Maybe the ring is a cubic zirconium. She might have bought those clothes at Twice As Nice, and that car might be her brother’s.”
Now, after 26 years of wear and tear and a conversion from apathetic Baptist to struggling Catholic, I agree. Although barely able to make ends meet at that time, I still didn’t qualify for food stamps, but I couldn’t be sure the woman’s circumstances weren’t even more dire than my own. Had her abuse been provable, I had a right to comment as a member of the Fourth Estate, but even then, as a Catholic, I didn’t necessarily have a right to judge.
Not everyone has learned the lesson my husband shamed me into absorbing. Folks tend to make assumptions about others who are “on the dole,” sometimes publicly calling them out in front of other customers. But the criticism is not limited to us put-upon taxpayers; it’s perpetuated, along with gross exaggerations and downright lies, by the biggest deadbeats among us: a majority of the U.S. Congress.
I read an article the other day and watched a video of some yoyo politician from Texas, hollering about how food stamp recipients buy crab legs, while most middle-class taxpayers can barely afford pink-slime-riddled ground beef. No doubt there’s abuse; current and former food stamp recipients admitted such for the article. But the crab-legs scenario hawked by detractors in Congress has taken on the status of urban legend.
Incidentally, what would members of Congress know about embattled middle-class taxpayers, or actual labor, for that matter? Most of them are wealthy – some beyond belief. Not only do they get to show crab legs, caviar, champagne and other luxury cuisine down their gobs, they are treated to manicures, massages and God knows what else on the taxpayer teat. Most Americans have indicated, through single-digit approval ratings, that they don’t think Congress does any “work” per se, so what’s the difference between most members of this august body and a room full of “welfare queens”?
By the way, in case you think I’m rendering unfair judgment on Congress, I can back up my claim. Available data – the record of recent congressional achievement or lack thereof, and of what we’re paying these people for whatever they’re doing in the Beltway – speaks for itself. At any rate, I have another fish to fry today, rather than the reeking, do-nothing congressional carp: My current pet peeve is people who are on the dole themselves, but think other folks have no right to be in the same predicament.
I have, at last count, about 82 friends on disability, and the vast majority need and deserve it. Some of our bodies simply cannot make it to retirement. We’re plagued by diseases, syndromes and physical handicaps, usually through no fault of our own – unless you count the stress wrought by jobs we had to work to pay the bills. Only the most callous individual would deny a truly disabled person the right to a Social Security check – which, by the way, won’t make anyone rich. Given the choice between subsisting on $12,000 a year in disability and $20,000 a year from a typical mainstream drudge-job in these trying times, most folks would happily opt for the latter.
But there are exceptions, and based on research, I’m starting to think more people today are abusing disability than the food stamp/welfare system. I’ve argued with a couple of friends about this. They say it’s very difficult to get on disability, and indeed, I know at least one person on dialysis several times a week who still hasn’t gotten the green light. On the other hand, I also know some folks who, though listed as disabled, could undertake certain jobs if they wanted to. Perhaps I’m making unfair assumptions, but if you’re clinically sane and you can go on a 7-mile bike ride every few days, get drunk a couple of times a week at a local bar, Jetski at the lake, and engage in vigorous daily sexual activities with multiple partners, you seem somewhat fit for duty.
I don’t care if the purported posers stay on disability until the Second Coming. I just want them to stop sharing Facebook memes that attack others of their ilk. Pots should not be calling kettles black on open Timelines. If you get taxpayer subsidies, I’m willing to give you assume you need them. All I ask is that you give your fellow recipients the same benefit of the doubt that I, and others, give them.
After one friend repeatedly posted comments about “welfare wh*res” and “food stamp trash” and their taste for crab legs, interspersed with memes proclaiming his Christianity, I private-messaged him and told him he was being just a bit hypocritical. He wrote back, “I M not talkin to U, I M talkin to people gettin taxpyr sbsidy.” I reminded him, “You ALSO get taxpayer subsidies.” He typed, “I dsrve them as I M rlly dsabld.” I said, “How do you know those other folks aren’t ‘really disabled’?”
I got no response, but did notice my number of friends had decreased by one. Later, a mutual friend said the “unfriender” was mad at me for “judging” people. I said, “Technically, I wasn’t judging ‘people’; I was judging a judger for judging.”
Good thing my husband wasn’t judgmental back in the day. I’d be pretty lonely now.
Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.