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Poor and needing more

08/21/2012 @ 9:45am

Most presidents are rich.

There is certainly no sin in that. It takes some brains to make money and it’s reassuring to know that the person in charge has enough smarts to rise toward the top of the heap. Plus, if you look at our national politicians, the majority of them are rich - or richer than you or me. That’s just the world we live in.  

So, I don’t care if my politicians are rich. What I do care about is that they know what it’s like to not be rich. I want them to know what it’s like to spread three bills out on your desk and pick the two you can afford to pay, or know what it feels like to only fill your gas tank half full because that’s all the money you have.  

I’ve said in the past that you shouldn’t be elected to public office unless you’ve worked for wages, met a payroll and served on a school board, and I still believe that. But I look at our national politics, and read things that some of our politicians say, and it makes me wonder if they know what it’s like to struggle. I was talking to a friend of mine, someone who’s done pretty well, but she told me she has a very clear memory of the first time she went to buy groceries and didn’t keep a running total in her head of how much she was spending compared to how much money was in her purse. Those days are a long way behind her, but the memories inform much of how she views the world.

And that matters. It matters for at least three reasons.

First, if you can remember how far you’ve come, you’ll also realize that a lot of people besides you have a long way to travel, too, and that it’s not easy. If you know what you did to get ahead, you can reach out a helping hand to those who still need to get a foot on the ladder.  

Second, if you’re in a position of authority, that knowledge can help you set policies that truly work, that encourage those who try and hold those who won’t try accountable. There are some bums out there – I don’t know any other way to say it. There are people who will take advantage of the system any way they can, and if you’ve seen the world from the bottom up, you’re a little harder to fool.

Third, and maybe most important, if you remember where you came from and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll recognize and remember that some folks aren’t going to climb very high, that there are a few people who are always going to need help. Just as there are some people who will take advantage any way they can, there are some who need all the help society can provide.

There’s no real virtue in being poor, but there isn’t any in being rich, either. People are people no matter how much money they make and you find the good and the bad at every income level. If you want to hang out with people just like you, feel free. But that’s a mistake if you’re going to be a politician, because you’re not supposed to be representing just the people like you or even the people who voted for you.  

You’re supposed to care about us all.


Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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