A recent New York Times article presented a group of Minnesotans caught in a serious catch-22: In Chisago County, government benefits account for 19 percent of income, but Rick Santorum, who considers benefits “the narcotic of government dependency,” won 57 percent of the vote there in the recent Minnesota GOP caucus.
Conservatives who were interviewed in the county felt bad about their reliance on government programs but strangely maintained that the government’s role should be smaller. What confuses me is that these conservatives aren’t voting in their own best interest; political ideology drives their thought process, rather than issues — like government benefits which directly affect them. It’s no wonder they are so conflicted; trying to reconcile acceptance of government support with membership in a party constantly denouncing it would make anyone’s head spin.
Ki Gulbranson, a small business owner in Lindstrom, Minn., clearly stated the dilemma he felt in the juxtaposition of his acceptance of benefits and his personal political beliefs: “You have to help and have compassion as a people, because otherwise you have no society, but financially you can’t destroy yourself. And that is what we’re doing. I feel bad for my children.”
I feel bad for us too. As a generation we have a plethora of serious issues we must come face to face with; the economy and our growing debt are puzzles not easily solved. We need to be the ones who eliminate the stigma that poverty results from a lack of skill or talent, or that it is inherently associated with failure. Chisago County isn’t a population of lazy freeloaders; it’s filled with hard-working small business owners and retired veterans. The benefits they feel guilty receiving are often ones they desperately need. As one interviewee put it, “catastrophes happen in life. To be so arrogant that you think it won’t happen to you, that somehow you’re going to be one of the special ones, I disagree with that.”
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