I sat next to a young mother with two small children on a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles the other day, and chatted about her struggles to pay her bills, feed her children and provide health care for her family.
She told me how her husband had lost three of his fingers in an accident, and could only afford to get two of them re-attached (one of them not fully). She told me how her three year old son was turned away from surgery for a painful hernia unless she could come up with $25,000 cash and had to apply for charity status to get him seen to. She told me about her father, who suffered a series of serious heart attacks and had to have triple bypass surgery. Her father then picked up a flesh eating hospital disease, and never fully recovered. He declared bankruptcy, lives on welfare, and owes the hospital $650,000 (paying them off at $20 per month).
Her stories were horrendous, heartbreaking, and enraging. I sat aghast, horrified at how the richest nation on the planet could fail to help it's citizens, especially those not looking for hand outs. The woman I spoke to works as a massage therapist, and her husband a laborer. They had saved up for 6 months to send her to see her aunt, and you could sense how big a deal it was for her to travel with her children.
I asked her who she liked out of the Presidential candidates, and my heart sunk.
"John McCain," she told me. "Hillary is a liar, and Barack Obama's pastor hates America."
It then began to dawn on me just how big the problem is in the United States. I tried to explain to her that the crumbling health care system, declining wages and rising prices were a direct consequence of policies John McCain is running on, but it seemed pointless. She was an intelligent but uniformed person subjected to endless hours of advertising by the candidates, and non stop "analysis" from the corporate media. Her mind was made up on image alone, and she would be voting for John McCain because he seemed "honest." I told her that the Democratic candidates would at least provide a minimum safety net for working Americans, while McCain would go further to strip it away. She listen politely, but I did not feel hopeful that she had been swayed.
As I said goodbye to her, I wondered what the progressive community could do to reach people like her. She has been failed by the government and media institutions that are supposed to serve her, with very little in the way of replacement. The future for her and her family is filled with fear and economic insecurity, and McCain offers virtually nothing in the way of serious solutions.
If people like the woman I sat next to are voting for John McCain, the progressive community, while growing in size and power, still has its work cut out.
Ben Cohen is the editor of The Daily Banter and a contributing writer to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com