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Betty Ford, Hero and Magnificent “Do-Gooder”

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“That’s what we are here on this earth for…to help others.” Betty Ford

Former First Ladies and other dignitaries traveled to California to say good by to the magnificent Betty Ford.  Her funeral is today (according to ABC,  a second funeral will be held Thursday in Grand Rapids). In the days since  Ford passed away, the tributes have pored in. Her words, her iconoclast ideas, her bravery, and her feminism remind of how differently things were only a generation ago when a First Lady walked with us to gain an equal rights amendment for women. It was not to be.  (Even now more than half the population is denied full Constitutionally-protected personhood. And yet today’s Republicans try to give personhood to a pre-zygote!) But it matters to me that she tried.

Replays of her incredible statements and expansive generosity have been and will be played and replayed. She is justifiably mourned as one of our greatest First Ladies.  But all those clips hide a starker truth. Many of her statements would be disparaged, and even mocked by the radical “right” power elite today. For God’s sake, Orrin Hatch even lambasts the poor and lower income middle Americans for their plight and for not ‘sacrificing’ more! Oh, these same folks (like Hatch) will mouth their tributes.  And then, under their breath,  they will whisper, “how quaint.”  “Or what a bleeding heart!”  Darn right she was.  And that  was a good thing.  

Imagine a Republican, or even a Conservadem, saying the quote I used to begin this diary! Today’s Congressional Republicans spend their time seeking to destroy the President’s presidency and simultaneously trying to boot Americans to the curb. In addition to the premiums seniors pay, the Ryan Republicans want to make seniors pay 65% of their health care bills instead of 25% via a pathetic coupon approach to health care.  A more cynical and politically depraved crop of TeaParty/GOPhers as the one in Congress hasn’t been invented. They have redefined nihilism.

For the most part, doing national good for others is not how Republicans in Congress roll. They act as if doing good, creating those things which make society better–like public schools, a public option, parks, a healthy environment, food for the poor, housing– is a vice.

Regarding our own side of the aisle, a comment to a diary here this past weekend touted one of Virginia’s favorite Democrats for ideas about privatizing what should be public assets, our public schools. He did so as if there were any essential goodness in selling off our assets and then charging us again for their use, thus making us pay twice. It is hard to find buried beneath all the Democratic triangulation of Republican policies any real good works anymore. It’s all about rich cohorts getting richer at the public trough.

Researchers have long doubted that there is such a thing as pure altruism.  That is because if one receives any reinforcement whatsoever from doing good for others, even a good feeling or seeing good outcomes, then it isn’t pure altruism.  The reinforcement makes altruism (doing good without getting anything back) an oxymoron.  But that research misses the point.

As Betty Ford acknowledged, doing good works is what we are here to do. No matter one’s faith, or lack thereof, deep down, the majority of citizens of either party (and independents alike) knows this to be true. The devil is, as they say, in the details of what government does and doesn’t. Obviously, most Americans believe government should not do everything.  But most Americans see and embrace some government functions, especially when they make lives better, or help grow the economy. Tax cuts for the rich do not trickle down, do not grow jobs and never have. But judicious government spending can.  The real question is: Do we spend government resources on endless war and more pumping up of the already rich, or do we seek to define those things we can and should do together as a nation?  

There is one thing I am heartened by in the months of “debate” over the debt ceiling and ill-timed deficit reduction talks.  That is that more than 70% of Americans opposed cuts to Medicaid. They also oppose cuts to Medicare and Social Security.  This is not to suggest that programs such as Social Security and Medicare have anything to do with charity.  Those important benefits are OURS. We worked for them.  However, there are programs such as food stamps, or WIC, or programs for the elderly poor, which government can do better than the private sector.  

But, Oh!, for Betty Ford to be on this earth to say in real time those words again! (Video footage will have to do.) Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine a reverting to those times when our country’s leaders actually believed we are our brother’s keeper.

There is a role for government. The essentials of life such as food, water and emergency shelter should not be left to optional donations alone.  Casualties of the so-called “free market” can’t all “lift themselves up by their bootstraps.”  The jobs are not there. The training programs aren’t there. Drug rehab programs aren’t available enough.  And the law allows employers only trying to raid those already employed (hire those already employed) instead of hiring the millions of qualified people without jobs.  

Most American know of the need we face. And so I must say that we may not, in many cases, have leaders who are as good as the American people are. They go to Washington and forget.  They get swept up by lobbyists-speak, so-called “free market”fiction and propaganda, and the hot air of voicing their own accomplishments. They persuade themselves that their privilege was entirely earned. They forget all the hands-up they received, and they forget the voters back home, the countless hours people donate because they believe in them, however foolishly sometimes. They are not self-made men and women anymore than any of the rest of us are.  Every single one of us, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, included, got help along the way.  Corporations and the wealthy get more than the rest. Governments provide infrastructure so businesses are able to profit.  And then the profiters forget that ever happened and slip into the delusion of the fictional ‘self-made” man or woman. They also easily forget the little guy who never got such gifts at taxpayer expense.  

But Betty Ford did not forget.  We are our brother’s keeper. In the spirit of kinder, gentler Republicans, she showed the way.  Let’s hope Betty Ford’s “angels” live on in the hearts of the 70%-plus percent, who know that no one deserves to be wiped out financially and then denied care, food, housing, an income. No-one. They know that this nation’s governing structures can do better than they are to heal this nation.  They also know private efforts are needed too in much the way Betty Ford involved herself.  In having her priorities toward others straight and modeling making a difference, Betty Ford, is and will always be my kind of hero.

  • blue bronc

    Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford were the last of that era. It was interesting watching them avoid being political.

    Regan was on her own and then Mrs. Bush, the elder, not the wife, created an anti-American first lady. The same crap that is going on now with Bachmann saying blacks were better off being slaves is the same crap that Mrs. Bush, the elder, said regarding the people who were evacuated to the AstroDome.

    Clinton turned the FLOTUS solidly political and then under king george Mrs. Bush, the Elder, once again reigned over the parade.Which is when she pronounced that blacks were better off on cots in the Astrodome.

    Current FlOTUS has to put up with all the racists out there – I do feel sorry for her. But at least she is holding up.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    is a class act.  And she doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

  • Brian

    This is a good eulogy. Betty Ford Is one of my heroes.