I want to meet Mick Mulvaney, this man of billions who has the audacity to call people like my mother-in-law thieves.
She sat in a hospital recliner this week with a giant blackening scar running down her leg as a stream of people she barely knew entered and exited at a rapid pace, spewing information into her stroke-impaired mind. She looked like a child who had lost her mother at the grocery store as doctors changed orders and nurses took readings, her eyes darting from one to the other as they spoke over her in multi-syllabic jargon.
She had put off a knee replacement until she cleared 65 so that her Medicare would help cover the bills. Each day, she rose on two dysfunctional joints that had worn ligaments, cartilage and bone. Her entire left side remained frozen in a tense and contracted state, the result of a massive stroke several years back.
The doctor decided to do her “good” leg first, so it could heal and provide the most support. When my wife protested, the doctor noted it was the only way to move forward with this. He also promised she’d be “good as new” after her two-night stay in the hospital and ready to go home.
My wife knew better.
Her mother couldn’t go but short distances without pain or exhaustion and that was when the “good” leg was working. Her bladder failed her often, as she tried desperately to make it to the bathroom before suffering the indignity of asking for a fresh nightgown. She rarely left the house and her movement was mostly confined to a wheelchair.
She needed a lot of rehab and she would need a nursing home to do it, my wife argued. The doctor didn’t think so at the time, but he eventually came around to it. However, the rule of Medicare is a three-midnight stay, or no nursing home.
My mother-in-law spent most of her two days in a drug-induced haze of opiates and numbing agents as we kept trying to figure out with these people how all this would work. By the time they had us convinced if we were there 24/7, we could keep her at home, they changed their mind and set up a nursing home bed.
The cost was more than $350 per day, not counting therapy and meds. Mom subsists on about $800 of social security and a $200 pension, the result of decades in the Catholic school system.
She cashed in her state pension, earned through years of working at northwoods schools near the UP of Michigan, a total of $8,000, but the nursing home needed two weeks up front.
As these numbers and costs and such flew around her head, I saw her bright blue eyes and I almost broke.
If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, her eyes showed terror; they had the look of a child witnessing an unspeakable act. They told of loss, panic and fear rolled into one.
This is why I want to meet Mick Mulvaney.
I want him to see those eyes and tell her how this budget he proposed can be anything but a decimating blow to people like her who have no hope but the mercy of the government.
I want him to drive out to this rural town of 3,300, many of whom voted for his boss, and call my mother-in-law a thief. This woman, who once was horrified that her father taught her child to grab a grape from the grocery store and try it before buying it, is a thief?
I want him to stand there and explain how she’s not a taxpayer who put up with so much in her life to support a family of five and worked until she was physically unable to any more.
I want him, with that “Leprechaun-meets-Jack-Torrance” look on his face, to say to her, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but that’s not my problem. This nation has bills to pay.”
If this country is worth anything, it’s because of people like my mother-in-law. She spent her life teaching Sunday school to poor children and working with the autistic kids whom society discarded. She kept food on the table and her family in line for nighttime meals and homework sessions. She pushed herself out of pure American grit: The idea that you don’t take from others, but you work so you can give back.
When people like her break down, it’s not out of greed or laziness or a sense that they are owed something. It’s because something happened beyond their control and they need the rest of us to say, “Relax. We got this.”
Tax cuts don’t do that. Medicine does.
GDP growth charts don’t do that. Safety nets do.
This is something the Mick Mulvaneys of the world will never get: Money isn’t everything. It’s what we do with the money that defines our humanity.