One of the luckiest and best things that ever happened to me and my family was when my folks decided to take a foster son into our family. I was 11 years old, and so was Kevin. I wasn’t sure about him coming, because with my oldest sister moving out, I would have finally have a bedroom to myself when my older brother moved into her newly empty room, but I got over it quickly enough.
Kevin is developmentally and physically disabled because of brain damage he had suffered from child abuse. He can’t talk very clearly (although those of us in the family can understand him pretty well), read much, or do much math. He has always moved pretty slow, and now has cerebral palsy and is having more and more trouble moving at all. But before getting CP, as long as he was able, Kevin went to work every Monday through Friday in structured workplaces, making money to support himself and pay taxes.
He is fun to be with, as engaging and good-natured as anyone I know. Although he’s not able to talk very clearly, Kevin tells great stories, is genuinely funny, and is always interested in hearing about what is going on in my life. He has a better memory on some things than I do, and despite not being able to read a map, he is better at finding his way around Lincoln, Neb. (our hometown) than I am. He calls our mom every single day (which is better than I do) with stories about his day. Most importantly of all, he cares for others wherever he is. Since he left our house after we all grew up, and Mom and Dad got older, Kevin has mostly been in group homes in Lincoln. We still see him on holidays and whenever we come to town, but since leaving my folks’ house, he has usually lived with others who have mental and/or physical disabilities. Even with his developmental challenges, his cerebral palsy, and the fact that he is losing some hearing and eyesight, Kevin has helped his housemates. For example, he has been a strong source of comfort, support and friendship for a young man he is living with now who is worse off than him in terms of his disabilities.
My brother Kevin, with all his challenges, is in every way the kind of person we would want in our society: a wonderful son, a great brother, someone who looks out for and helps everyone around him. This is the kind of person Republicans would leave by the side of the road in order to, as my friend Bob Creamer put it, “protect tax loopholes for CEOs who fly corporate jets.” They would devastate Medicaid and programs for the disabled, so that the wealthiest most powerful people in America would not have to pay a single extra dime in taxes. But Kevin is not the only son of the middle class who would be badly hurt by the Republican position on the budget and the debt ceiling. Conservatives are threatening everything that helps support a decent middle class, including help for our family members who have disabilities; including money for education and student loans; including middle-class consumer protection from financial predators; including Social Security and Medicare for elderly folks. And they are playing chicken with our entire economy, because as a vast majority of economists believe, a debt ceiling default would traumatize a very weak economy. We could have another major financial panic, millions more in job losses. And all so that people over making over $500,000 don’t have to pay one more penny in taxes.
Now obviously, this is terrible policy, sociopathically insane. But it also goes to the core of who we are as a country, our deepest foundational values and vision of ourselves. Are we a nation built on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which celebrates selfishness and wealth above all other things, and mocks people like my brother Kevin as defective parasites? Or do we follow the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a dream, “deeply rooted in the American Dream,” that we would be an American family sitting down at the table of brotherhood where we were all judged on the content of our character? By that test, my brother Kevin would far outshine people like Paul Ryan.
Our economy is at stake in this budget and debt ceiling debate, perched on the edge of a precipice. But so is the content of our character as a country. I hope it is not found wanting.