The real face of welfare & why I can’t vote third party in 2012

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I gotta tell you something: I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008.

I was glad he won. I cried during his inauguration. But I didn’t vote for him.

When people discovered my intentions before the election, they didn’t understand. I’d explain that voting for the lesser of two evils was a lie — the same kind of lie that constituted the corrupt system they were hoping their candidate would reform. If they suggested that voting for a third party candidate was basically voting for McCain, I’d smugly quip back, “it’s gotta get worse before it gets better.”

In 8 months, I’m going to vote for Obama.

A couple years ago, working as a case manager for at-risk and homeless youth, I met a young man who completely changed my mind about the importance of symbolic victories versus the tangible consequences of fiscally conservative government.

If you told him that, he would have no idea what you were saying. See, Ben (not his real name, of course) was 19 at the time, suffering from mental health concerns and a developmental delay from FASD. He was estranged from his family, yet trying to take care of a newborn and learn coparenting skills with his on-and-off girlfriend. He always tried to do the right thing, but most of his friends spent their time partying and doing petty crimes, and his childlike innocence often saw him in the middle of their antics.

Ben’s dad had never been there for him, so more than anything in the world, he wanted to be a good father. But no matter how hard he tried, he kept slipping up. He’d get fired from jobs, he’d stop going to GED classes, he’d get into fights with his girlfriend. I told him that he was trying to move to fast, that he needed to address his mental health before he could work toward these other goals.

He had messed up too many times to disagree.

He started going to life skills classes, interviewed at a board & lodge for adults with persistent mental health issues, met with me to learn how to set attainable goals and break them down into concrete steps. Finally, after months of hard work, he was making progress. At the same time his self-esteem was low, his friends weren’t supporting him, and his Bipolar Disorder led him into unnecessary conflicts that made his life even harder and more complicated.

Things were looking good, though, he had finally stopped self-medicating with marijuana, and he had an appointment set up with a psychiatrist to update his medications and really start looking at his mental health.

And then a Republican governor cut back state Medical Assistance and Ben lost his insurance.

He didn’t get to go to the psychatrist.

He resumed self-medicating with marijuana. He had a blowup with his girlfriend who told her kids he was an idiot and they wouldn’t get to see him any more. He stopped showing up for appointments. He tried to rob one of his friends.

All that hard work and all that momentum was shattered, not by Ben’s lack of will, but by a fiscally conservative governor who was so unwilling to raise taxes that he’d rather see Ben in jail. And eventually that’s where he went, followed by court-mandated in-patient treatment, both paid for by the state.

I don’t know what would have happened if Ben hadn’t lost his Medical Assistance, but I know the week before that happened he was dead serious about getting his life together and I never saw that level of conviction in him again.

Ben is the real face of welfare. He didn’t need government assistance because he was lazy. He needed it because life screwed him over by not giving him the skills or resources needed to be independent.

It kills me now to think that the symbolism of voting for someone with policies I wholly support versus the lesser of two evils is more important than the real impact these things have on people’s lives.

So when I vote this November, it’s not really for Obama.

It’s for Ben.

SorenThe real face of welfare & why I can’t vote third party in 2012

5 Comments on “The real face of welfare & why I can’t vote third party in 2012”

  1. Ellington3

    I hope that all the “Bens” and “Bennie’s” out there get the help and support that they need.
    You live in a country with a two party system, I watch your politics from here (Canada) and I sometimes do not understand it for all of the inanity involved, but often and really voting is not about you but about making a choice for the eventual betterment of life. Think of it not as the lesser of two evils but the better okay of two ersatz okays or maybe vote for the party that works your last nerve the least? To be honest if you held onto your feelings about voting you would never vote again because I highly doubt that America will have a candidate with your convictions or sensibilities running for office (unless you decide to run) ; ).

    I was over joyed when Barack Obama won because it was and is wonderful to see a man who looks like my brothers and my nephews who has attained so much, and I was so happy to see Michelle Obama and their beautiful daughters too! I know that his win made many black people and other people of colour very proud. And I was really proud of and happy for your country for the first time ever.
    Abstention only works sometimes, use it when it really matters. : )

  2. William Jahn

    My daughter, like Ben, has benefitted from Obama’s first term. She is a twenty four year old student stuck in a $17,000.00 a year job. Thanks to Obama, she will be eligible for a couple of years of health insurance. That is not enough. I believe we live in a one party system of government. That party is slowly eating away at the Constitution. Ben and my daughter may have had a crumb tossed to them, but I have grave misgivings about their futures. Good luck to them both.

  3. Justin

    Wow. Powerful stuff. I find myself wrestling with this a lot, as Obama has authorized the selected kill list, allowing the assassinations of American citizens, signed the NDAA into law, and continued Bush’s system of illegal imprisonment and torture. His economic policies are, in my opinion, far from up to snuff on top of that.

    But you make a really good point here. At the same time, I live in New Jersey. It’ll almost NEVER be a swing state, and chances are, my state’s electoral votes are going to go to Obama regardless of which way I vote. So I may go with the Green Party for the aforementioned reasons. That being said, you’ve given me a lot of food for thought.

    1. Future Talk

      Yeah, I always go back and forth between those two positions. It’s difficult to know what to do these days… which in the broader sense is what this website seeks to address by exploring ways we can rearrange society so it’s not so damn hard.

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