What a mess. What an awful, shameful mess we have on our hands here in the good ol’ USA. Some beacon of democracy we are! Why should other countries struggling to forge new democracies look to us now? We are flat-out failing. So many of our lawmakers represent only those who have paid for their campaigns or their idea of serving their religion, so few of them able to engage in genuine open-minded and intelligent discourse. The rest of the world points to us and says, “The deadlock of American government is the fault of every single one of you. These are the people you elected to serve. You have no one to blame but yourselves.” Everything now is black or white…or, rather, red and blue. And the world’s disgust in us is well-earned.

I’m sick at heart over this. There are protestors sleeping in heaps of blankets outside my home state’s Capitol building in subzero weather, there are lawmakers in Arizona writing bills to make American newborns with migrant parents into instant tiny criminals, and the honorable intent behind “fiscal responsibility” has turned into a well-planned agenda to take away funding from those evil havens of left-wing nutjobs, Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. The Supreme Court flings the doors wide open to unlimited political campaign spending by both foreign and domestic corporations, and far-right Governors want to ensure that workers’ unions have little or no power anymore. Wall Street criminals walk free, and a Georgia lawmaker wants all women who have miscarriages to prove they didn’t abort or go to jail.

Before you call me an agenda-led kind of girl, an evil left-wing nutjob, let me tell you this: I’ve been on all sides. In my life, I’ve been poor enough to qualify – for years – for food stamps. I’ve been wealthy enough to pay the top tax rate – for years. I’ve sat in the middle class, where there were no government financial adjustments for being poor or any extra cash from being rich – for years. I came from a Republican family, but my mother was once a proud owner of a Wisconsin teacher’s union card. My father served in WWII for five years, and my mother worked in a munitions plant, and both have been more than generous to their family, friends, and employees. Both my parents graduated from a state university, as I did. I saw my family slowly build a business to success, and how that business being taxed in two different countries at high rates at times seemed very unfair. I also saw a police officer come to our door and put a lien on our house – a house that had three mortgages on it. I saw my mother look in the bottom of the clothes washer and under our couch cushions to try to give me school lunch money for that day – and that day only. And I’ve enjoyed a lifestyle that most would call quite privileged, and I’ve gone without when it seemed everyone I knew didn’t.

So. One side would tell you, look, there’s an example of people who were poor bringing up their status by hard work, building a business that ended up supporting our family and others. The other side would say, in a country so wealthy, no citizen should be deprived of basic housing, healthcare, food, or education, for opportunity and ability are not always aligned to make every person a financial success.  And I say, WHY can’t we figure out how to be both responsible and compassionate? WHY? The development of business and entrepreneurship in a capitalist country is and must be a big priority – it’s how we roll here. But it doesn’t make any sense at all to fund it on the backs of the people who will never have much scratch to spare, and many of those who are in service to YOU AND ME, who make that choice to serve everyone, rather than serve only themselves. Get it? Whatever problems you may have with teachers or the police or unions in general, and of course there are problems in anything, they aren’t trying to take down Big Biz or lay back and eat bon bons in the break room. The vast majority want to work, want to do their best. It is galling that some government leaders are attempting to disallow their meaningful say in their own employment.

How in the hell can anyone, especially after 9-11, not GET how police officers and firefighters are INCREDIBLE? I’m not going to let Officer Pissy Ticketer or the few who seriously don’t belong in uniform take away from that fact, no way. Hey, how about nurses? Who sat by you in the hospital after visiting hours and made sure you were as comfortable as you could be, and maybe sat with you and held your hand for a few minutes? Who doubled-checked your chart, and found a med error from a too-stressed-out doctor, and corrected it? Who treated you like a human being, instead of a “patient?” And teachers? You ever try that job? I have. Your responsibility is overwhelming. It’s up to you to figure out how to work with every student so they learn what they need to on your watch.  You have to deal with special needs, district mandates, kids who are too tired or hungry or stressed to focus, supplies that are depleted by December, and parents who are just not interested. Your day never ends, with lesson planning, grading, and worrying that goes on most every evening. You often look for supplemental income in the long summer break. And everyone blames you for everything that’s wrong with education.

These are not the people who have bankrupted our country, either financially or morally. Don’t look in the middle – look up. Way way way way way way up. Unchecked greed by those with millions and billions to play with from their own personal bankrolls did, not Ms. Smith, the 2nd grade teacher who earns 50K a year, nor all the Ms. And Mr. Smiths put together. When you pick away at the poorest folks, you can often get away with it. When you pick on the middle class, you risk radicalizing millions and millions of people who are dead tired of being disrespected to begin with, and who will not be able to stand for being smothered by the government that is supposed to represent them, too.

Our deficit is an atrocious nightmare, and it needs to be seriously dealt with.  But you cannot be taken seriously as a lawmaker when you only choose to cut programs from “the other side.” Worse, you should have your asses booted out of town for trying to do everything you can (some of which is very very legally suspect) to suppress the legitimate concerns of the other side. All of us must commit to stop playing war games inside our own country. All of us need to take responsibility and make sacrifices. And all of us must return to the idea that America is not just one thing, one side, one vision, with only one way to go about things. For those that serve us every day, for those who served and died, for those who face an uncertain future because we can’t get our shit together, for the biggest and smallest of us all, think again about what democracy is supposed to be. The world so counts on us.