Posted on October 27, 2014 in Washington Watch
Back in 1996, my mother was interviewed on Good Morning America. They were doing a story on the November election and wanted to know why she, an 89-year-old Catholic woman, was voting for Democrats. In her responses to the GMA reporter, Mom related how her life experiences had shaped her politics. Her words are as relevant today, as they were 18 years ago.
In the matter of fact way that was her style, my mother began by telling how when her Lebanese immigrant family arrived in Northeast Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century, it was the Democratic Party in their town that helped them find their way. They lived in the heart of coal country and most of their neighbors were immigrants from Ireland or Eastern or Central Europe who worked long tough hours in the mines. Again, it was the Democrats who fought for their rights and protected their interests. When the Great Depression hit hard, it was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal that put people back to work and created a safety net for those most impacted by the crisis.
And moving forward, it was Democrats who defended civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, and programs that addressed the needs of the poor, the disabled, and at risk children.
In short, Mom grew up not only believing that government had a responsibility to lend a helping hand to those who needed it; she had seen, first-hand, government fulfilling those responsibilities and serving the greater good.
When I was in my teens, I read Ayn Rand and became enamored of Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. Mom would have none of it. One day as I was spouting off about individualism and the evils of government, my mother pointed a disapproving finger in my face and told me "if it weren't for Social Security survivor benefits [which I had been receiving since my father's death when I was 15], you'd be out working right now instead of being in school"; and if it weren't for the New York State scholarship you'd won, we wouldn't have been able to afford to send you to college". She concluded with "don't deny to others what you take for yourself".
The phase through which I had been going was typical stuff for teens -- a kind of infantile narcissism where you think only of yourself. Mom's injunction was, in short, to grow up, get over my self-absorption, and see the bigger picture of benefits we receive from and the responsibilities we have toward others. My rebellion was short-lived.
My family, like so many other immigrants before us, and so many others who have come since then, arrived in the New World with nothing but hopes and dreams and a commitment to work hard to produce a better life for their families. Sure, my dad and mom worked hard. And yes, we succeeded -- in many ways beyond their wildest dreams. But my mother's point was that the success we realized wasn't ours alone. It was also due to a social contract that had provided some degree of security and support when we and our neighbors and friends needed it most. Whether it was the public school system, the Works Progress Administration, Social Security, the efforts of unions that won battles for a minimum wage and a 40-hour work week, and the vast social movements that fought for civil rights and women's rights -- we owe our success to working together and for each other.
At the end of her interview, the Good Morning America reporter attempted to throw Mom a zinger. She asked, "But you're a Catholic who goes to mass everyday -- how can you vote for Bill Clinton, when he supports abortion?" Unfazed, my mother said, "On issues like that I go to my priest. But when I vote for President, I want someone who will fight to save Social Security and Medicare, and who'll be there to help those in need".
That was mom's lesson then, and the values she conveyed still apply today. Because I was born into a Lebanese immigrant home -- grounded by my church, my ethnic heritage, and my family -- I look at every election through the lens of those values. That's why I vote for Democrats.comments powered by Disqus