Last week was just another week that wasn't in terms of a kinder and gentler America.
On Tuesday, September 17, Starbucks chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz appealed to patrons not to carry firearms into his coffee houses. On Thursday, September 19, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would reduce funding for food stamps over the next decade. On Friday, September 20, the House passed a bill that would keep the government running and avoid a shut down but only if "Obamacare" is defunded.
These actions are signs of an increasingly fractured and fractious society in which the will and power of the few imperil the many. Let's examine why by looking at each one of them in turn.
Schultz's request was made in response to "open carry" laws that exist in many states that allow citizens to carry guns in public. In an open letter, Schultz indicated his request was precipitated because the "open carry" debate "has become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening." He went on to explain that "gun activists had used our stores as a political stage for media events called 'Starbuck Appreciation Days' that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of 'open carry.'" And, that "anti-gun activists have also played a role ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners."
We are pleased to see Mr. Schultz standing for his grounds -- coffee and customers, that is. We think that most of the millions of latte loving and tai chi tea-drinking folks who frequent his establishments would agree with his position.
Unfortunately, we don't think his stand will make much of a difference. That's because, as we noted in a blog we posted early in the year after the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, "given the American psyche today, mind control trumps gun control."
Gun rights matter mightily to gun activists. Gun control, on the other hand does not matter nearly as much to the general public. As we stated in our earlier blog, based upon surveys "...it is not a compelling 'wedge' issue to the vast majority of the American public."
It wasn't at the first of the year and it isn't now. The proof of that is in the lack of progress and results since then.
The current state of affairs was eloquently captured and summarized by Eli Saslow in an article for The Washington Post. In writing about a rally of shooting massacre survivors on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, September 19, he observes;
"The silence was all around them now. It was a Senate that had no more plans to take up gun control, and the members of Congress who refused to meet with them, and the state lawmakers who had been voted out of office for supporting background checks, and President Obama's apologies that he had already done what he could do, and a general public that sympathized and sent flowers and, yes, even mostly agreed with their positions on gun control but had lost its capacity for outrage nine months and more than 9,000 shooting deaths after Newtown."
While the dominant sound from Congress on gun control was silence, the prevailing sound on food stamps was a snap to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By a close vote of 217-210 (no Democrats voted for the bill and 15 Republicans voted against it), the House passed legislation that would cut $39 billion in funds out of food stamps over the next decade.
If the House cuts were to take place, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 3.8 million people would lose food stamp benefits next year. According to The Hill's Pete Kasperowicz and Erik Watson, one of the Republican rationales was "reducing payments to able-bodied adults and focusing payments on more needy populations."
As we noted in a July blog, that's exactly the opposite approach that the House took in passing the farm bill which provided the vast majority of its rewards not to the average family farmer but to large and corporate farming interests. That's not just our opinion. It is also that of the conservative Heritage Foundation who in a scathing report stated "the big winners are actually large agricultural enterprises."
The Foundation's report provides substantial evidence that the new House bill divided up the subsidy cake unequally by giving much larger slices to those large agricultural enterprises. As for the millions who will or could lose food stamp benefits due to these cuts, the House bill goes Marie Antoinette one better. It says not "let them eat cake" but "let them eat crumbs" -- no cake slices for those "able-bodied adults" and certainly not a cup of coffee at Starbucks or even McDonalds.
Finally, that brings us to the "stopgap bill" that the House passed by a 230 to 189 party line vote that eliminated funding for the Affordable Care Act that says to the Senate and the President Stick 'Em Up. The House majority was not holding a gun when they sent this bill to the Senate but they were definitely trying to hold someone and something up.
As Eric Cantor said at a Republican rally after the bill passed, "We're in this fight and we want the Senate to join us." President Obama reacted to the bill's passage by telling a group of autoworkers at a Ford plant in Liberty, Missouri, "They're focused on politics. They focused on trying to mess with me; they're not focused on you."
There is no question that those in control in the House want a fight. There is no question that the focus of this is political and also on the president. There should also be no question, however, that whether intentionally or unintentionally this action is also focused on citizens and their health care needs.
The American health care system is in need of improvement on all fronts -- cost, quality and coverage. Tens of millions Americans will benefit from improvements to it. There should be no quarrel about that.
The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. It has, can and will be improved. There should be no quarrel about that either.
To not fund the Act or to cast it aside with no guarantee of an alternative or replacement is to say to those tens of millions of Americans, Stick 'Em Up! We can do and they deserve better.
To do better, though, we have to find a way to be kinder and gentler. Doing better begins by thinking about things differently and contemplating our nation's current confrontational and judgmental culture which places blame and finds fault rather than searching for solutions and common ground.
For some final thoughts in this regard, we turn to Charles Krauthammer and Pope Francis. They both sent important messages last week.
Pope Francis surprised and startled many Roman Catholics in an interview in which he stated, "It is not necessary to talk about these issues (gays, abortion and birth control) all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent." In that same interview the pope said, "This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all not a small chapel than can hold only a small group of selected people."
Krauthammer, in an insightful column written after Aaron Alexis killed 12 people in the Washington Navy Yard, observed, "More than half of those you see sleeping on grates have suffered mental illness. It's a national scandal. It's time we re-calibrated the pendulum that today allows the mentally ill to die with their rights on - and rarely but unforgivably, take a dozen innocents with them."
We agree with the pope and Mr. Krauthammer. It is time to re-examine, re-calibrate and reconsider where to put our focus and priorities as Americans. In our opinion, if we put the interests of the people and the many first instead of politics and the privileged we can begin the journey to making America a "home for all" again.