Last week my boss instructed me to get "good-luck" cards for two co-workers being laid off. We had all been pretending it wasn't happening, but this was it for me: I was charged with selecting "the right card" for two young women who had gained employment with the agency two years ago, fresh out of college and full of passion, but were now looking at unemployment checks, cobra, and moving back in with their parents.
I started my uneasy and perplexing mission in the greeting card aisle of the closest supermarket. There were two cards in the "good-luck" category. The first featured a dancing teddy-bear and falling four-leaf clovers. "Hope everything goes really well for you," it read. The other, was "from all of us" -- a bunch of goofy-looking dogs -- and expressed congratulations for an unspecified achievement. I should have offered to bake a cake instead, I thought.
Inevitably, I ended up at the local Hallmark store. A blank-card type myself, and to avoid sorting through the overwhelming, ever-growing choice of collections and occasions, I asked the attendant if she might point me to "good-luck" cards. She started us out in the "congratulations" category. "I'm afraid that's not going to work. Unfortunately, we're saying good-bye to two co-workers who are being laid off," I said. She turned quickly around, and asked, "How's Obama working out for the country now?"
The remark was so unexpected and out of place, I barely had time to react. Was I in the "blame somebody" section? "Obama has nothing to do with it," I said, and thanked her for her help. She was off mumbling, "He has everything to do with it!"
I walked right past the "congratulations," "good-luck" and "job loss" categories, and made my selection from the "encouragement" section instead.
I later drove home blaming myself for my weak answer. But today I think it was the right answer, on several levels. The attendant's conduct -- in her place of employment and directed at a customer -- was simply inappropriate, and did not deserve engagement. My reply was a literal and true rejection of her remark. Obama has nothing to do with my co-workers' job loss. They are losing their jobs, and the agency is losing their program, because of changes and cuts to New York State's Medicaid funding. And whether or not the state had a choice, or made the best possible choice, Obama is not exactly the greatest proponent of cuts to the so-called entitlement programs such as Medicaid.
This morning, before we had cake and cards for my departing co-workers, I had the opportunity of speaking to them in private. One is recently engaged; the other carrying on the responsibility of a parent's mortgage. They had a very difficult and often risky job; they did it well, and were even passionate about it. But, suddenly jobless, they blamed no one. They worried about the vulnerable clients they were leaving, and whether the state would find an alternative way to take care for their needs. They hoped to find jobs once they had a little more time to look more diligently. But they blamed no one.