Thursday, December 17, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Economic Captivity of American Political Leaders: Personal Reflections

My take on the Senate’s health care bill: kill it.

It’s a betrayal rather than embodiment of reform. It’s an insult to the millions of Americans who voted for an about-face from the politics as usual of the Bush era. It continues to invite corporate interests to control American politics and American lives.

Kill it. If this is the best our Congress and White House can do, as they keep handing over the store to Wall Street and the banking, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries, I prefer the status quo.

Either way, it’s unlikely I’ll have access to health care. Either way, millions on millions of Americans will go without access to ongoing, basic health care.

At least the system we have now is honestly, frankly, driven by the quest for profit. I prefer the devil I know to the one I don’t, particularly when the latter wears a mask of benignity to cover over the evil inside.

As I noted on this blog, when the new administration began to belie its promises to the LGBT community, I knew what all of us who thought we had chosen progressive leaders were up against, across the board. As I also noted, seeing one promise of progressive change after another betrayed began months ago to siphon off my own energy to support this administration.

My energy and respect are now depleted. I’ve lost all respect for the new administration, and any energy to assist it in its battles. In more than forty years as a voter, I cannot remember a vote that I regret more than the one I cast in the last elections. I cannot recall being more disappointed in any previous president I helped to elect.

Meanwhile, I have my own battles to fight, and they’re made more difficult, rather than easier, by the current political powers that be. As I’ve noted previously, when Steve and I took jobs in Florida a few years ago, having been promised those jobs up to our retirement as an incentive to relocate, we assumed a second mortgage. We needed a modest second house for the several years in which we intended to be in Florida.

As I’ve also noted, the experience of assuming a second mortgage has turned into a nightmare, because the “friend” who lured us to work at the university she heads quickly let us know we were unwelcome—in large part, because the United Methodist Church in Florida, which sponsors her school, split down the middle over whether to welcome gay members on the very weekend that we arrived in the state. And so we now have a second mortgage and a house we don’t want or need, which we bought on the basis of a promise that was betrayed.

And we can’t sell the house, because its value has depreciated by almost half since we bought it. To sell it would be to lose money we cannot afford to lose. The best we can do now is to rent the house, leaking money each month that we do so, because the rent doesn’t cover the monthly note.

Jobs we took in order to help us prepare for retirement have had the nightmarish effect of depleting our already meager retirement savings. As theologians, we have never worked at jobs that provided lavish salaries, and as openly gay theologians who have been shoved to the margins by the church, we’ve had checkered careers with gaps in them, in which we made little or nothing for some years.

I also spent over a decade working in historically black colleges, which pay far lower salaries than their white counterparts, and Steve spent a decade doing so. We were happy to sacrifice financial security to follow what seemed to be a vocational opening for our lives as theologians. We are unhappy, however, to find ourselves slapped in the face by the leader of the last HBCU for which we worked, paying for an experience that was supposed to be designed to help us save a bit for retirement: literally paying out of our pockets for the experience of being betrayed by someone who recently wrote an op-ed piece for her local paper in Florida, proclaiming herself to be a person of great integrity shaped by strong United Methodist values.

So here’s what’s going on right now with that house in Florida—and this is related to my opening statements about the health care bill and the current administration. As the new administration bailed out the banks and interest rates began to drop, we assumed that we could renegotiate the loan for the house, and in that way, lower our monthly expenses.

We have a friend in our bank in Little Rock, an exceptionally kind woman who, for whatever reason, has taken us under her wing since we’ve lived here. She’s done everything in her power to see if we can take advantage of the lower interest rates available now, and of the perks that we had hoped would pass down to customers—particularly those in serious financial distress due to mortgage challenges—as banks were bailed out by the new administration.

And the upshot is this: there simply are no perks to be passed on to mortgage-holders in our situation now, despite the considerable perks banks have been given, presumably to help homeowners in our situation. Our mortgage is now upside down. If we did succeed in selling our house in Florida—a long shot, in the current economy—we’d take a huge loss on it. Our only option, other than simply to walk away from the mortgage and default, is to pay out of our rapidly disappearing savings, every month, for a house we don’t want, don’t need, and bought only because we foolishly believed the promises of a friend who offered us jobs up to retirement—which gave us a salary that allowed us to pay both mortgages as long as we had those jobs.

Walking away from the loan payments, defaulting on them, is abhorrent to me. I think I have so much bourgeois morality drilled into me—work hard, give honest work for honest pay, never let any bills go unpaid—that I can’t even imagine doing such a thing. The only bill I can ever recall not having paid in my entire life is a bill a vet sent me when my cat died in the mid-1970s. Because I thought that the cat’s death was the fault of the vet, who hadn’t given it proper care, I refused to pay the bill. And this still haunts me.

And so I’ve been reading with great interest the articles that have been coming out recently, which report that 1.7 million homeowners were on the verge of foreclosure this fall, that only 1 out of 1,600 borrowers have received loan modifications from Bank of America as a result of the new administration’s foreclosure program, and that, with interest rates at an historic low, banks still balk at refinancing mortgages, despite the lucrative support they’ve received for this precise purpose from the new administration.

Something’s wrong. Something’s historically wrong now, not only with our economy, but with our political culture. Up is down and black is white. Money given to banks to assist distressed homeowners has become money enriching banks at the expense of those very homeowners.

And for the first time in my life, I’m giving serious consideration to something I would never have dreamed of at any other point in my life, and which still seems like an abdication of everything that I believe in, everything I am: I’m thinking of just walking away from a financial obligation that has turned exceedingly sour, both because I’m unemployed and cannot sustain the obligation, and because it symbolizes a deeply painful betrayal that Steve and I have experienced at the hands of an academic leader who dares to write editorial pieces for her local paper defining herself as a person of integrity faithful to core Wesleyan values.

Even as I say this, I recognize, of course, that there are people in the current economy in a far worse situation than the one in which we find ourselves. I’m talking here about a second house, after all—a luxury item, albeit one we bought for purely pragmatic reasons, never intending to keep beyond the period we needed it for our work out of state.

At the same time, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t also note that this story also hinges on the continued willingness of many good church people—and of church leaders—to treat LGBT persons as if we are less than human. As if their integrity is not compromised when they lie to and about those of us who are gay, and betray us. And as if we don’t feel the pain, when we’re treated as subhumans and our lives are made miserable through discrimination.

The silence of key church leaders about what is taking place in Uganda right now, and the apathy of many church members about the horrendous situation facing gay citizens of that country, has everything to do with the presupposition that LGBT human beings are less human than everyone else, and that one can claim to be an upstanding Christian while treating one’s LGBT brothers and sisters as less than human.