COMMENTARY | I was once aggressively panhandled in the subway. While heading to pay for my fare card, a woman, clearly not totally in charge of her faculties, approached me and demanded money. I said no.
She followed me to the kiosk, and watched as I put the five I had on me into the machine. “But you have five dollars,” she said to me.
“But I need it,” I retorted.
What that woman couldn’t know was, at that time, I was providing direct services for low-income clients at a non-profit. Not only did I “give at the office,” giving, essentially, was my office.
With John Boehner, R-Ohio, crossing his arms and harrumphing about tax cuts for the wealthy in advance of the debt talks, I can’t help but remember that exchange with the woman in the subway, a woman who obviously came to that station on the weekend, hoping to hit up a tourist, as she wasn’t a regular there. Here he is, demanding our five dollars, even though we need it. Even though we give every day at a rate he never considers.
With the Bush tax cuts — now set to expire — the American people gave the wealthy a gift. A huge gift — the gift of hoarding and growing their wealth at a rate unfettered by paying their fair share.
Polls indicate that it’s a gift that the majority of Americans no longer want to provide. People like Boehner demand it, as though they are entitled to the generosity of this nation at the expense of the poorest among us. And yet they have the nerve to call the basic survival tools for the poorest among us “entitlements.”
The thing about that woman was that she gave the appearance of need, rather than real need. When you live in a city, you see the real victims of poverty, you recognize their faces, you grow accustomed to seeing them where they regularly like to be. And you learn to spot the people who are trying to blend in, to take advantage of the largesse of others, who wield guilt as a weapon of getting what they want.
The wealthy want you to liken them to me in this scenario, as the person who does give, but it never seems to be enough. The person whose contributions are unseen when confronted by a person who wants something from you in a subway.
But they are not me in this scenario. They have never been me. They are the woman who demanded money, whether or not I had it to give. They are the woman who did not know and did not care about my own financial constraints, about how much I’ve already given.
If it doesn’t go to them, it doesn’t count.
The wealthy are contributing to society at the lowest level in decades, if not ever. They are weekend subway panhandlers, hoping to guilt the tourists among us into continuing to give them expensive presents we cannot afford, and they are willing to take you and me down with them.