There’s a song on the new Bruce Springsteen album called “Long Walk Home.” In a storyline that echoes the great country-gospel tune “Rank Strangers,” the protagonist returns to the town of his birth, only to realize he doesn’t recognize anyone. The things he thought were sacrosanct about such a place — Here everybody has a neighbor/Everybody has a friend/Everybody has a reason to begin again — are on his mind, but he’s wondering if they still hold true.
He remembers what his father
“Son, we’re lucky in this town/It’s a beautiful place to be born/It just wraps its arms around you/Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone/You know that flag flying over the courthouse/Means certain things are set in stone/Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t.”?
It’s a profound statement about being principled even as everything around you seems to lose its scruples, and its hook is the idea that there is something fundamental we can count on amid it all.
You may have heard a rather new term in the last few weeks: S-CHIP. It’s the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a way to provide healthcare to economically disadvantaged children who may otherwise go without. A political fight is under way because President Bush has vetoed a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the S-CHIP program and increase its funding by $35 billion. Bush says he is opposed on “philosophical”
grounds, because the program would provide insurance to middle-class children in a few cases, and encourage a move away from private insurance. The bill would increase the cigarette tax 61 cents-per-pack to pay for the program’s expansion.
God forbid smokers would pay a little extra to help children. It’s a voluntary thing, smoking, and thus a voluntary tax to help children. But helping children is not our national priority. Preventing tax increases at all costs is, even something voluntary imposed on the most addictive and dangerous drug ever mass-marketed.
This situation is not complicated. In fact, it’s more straightforward than most things coming out of Washington anymore. Look at it this way: If you regularly use an intersection that is poorly designed or more heavily traveled than it can handle, you don’t need a raft of statistics or an extensive study to understand the problem. You know it inherently because you see the accidents and near-misses with your own eyes.
The same goes for ridiculous rhetorical games in which people like George W. Bush trot out all sorts of sham reasons to defend their indefensible ideas.
Bush claims to be a fiscal conservative, and yet his war has created massive debt. He claims to care about soldiers, and yet he creates a situation in which the war becomes a cash-delivery device for a handful of corporations that are among his core supporters — ideologically, politically and financially. Not to mention that the people who work for those companies are paid amazing amounts of money while the soldiers they work next to are paid a pittance, forced to work with subpar equipment and kicked to the curb when they are injured and no longer of use to the war effort.
And then he unveils this intellectually insulting Red Scare ruse, that S-CHIP may spend government money on middle-class children and therefore it is equivalent to a federalized healthcare system.
This is gall. This is someone who will smile in your face while he’s sleeping with your wife in a hotel room he paid for with your credit card.
This is wrong, and it has a lot to say about why so many average folks feel helpless, frustrated, disconnected and desperate.
In what universe can you actually argue against the notion that taking care of children, regardless, is morally right and will pay dividends down the road? Whatever word games you want to engage in, the rightness of taking care of children who will suffer otherwise is inarguable. It gets to the very heart of what we stand for, or what we used to stand for.
The chorus to the Springsteen song says, Gonna be a long walk home/?Hey pretty darling, don’t wait up for me/?Gonna be a long walk home/?It’s gonna be a long walk home.
We do have a long walk ahead of us, and it’s unclear whether the things we — not the sons and daughters of privilege, but the other America — once counted on to exist still, in fact, do. We left home, and now we’re lost.
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