My most terrifying moment in decades slammed into me like a runaway 18-wheeler on Feb. 1 at 6:14 a.m. Nurses at the Emory University children's hospital in Atlanta wheeled my 14-year-old daughter Amy away for some very major surgery.
Any parent knows the feeling - the point at which you're utterly helpless to aid a child in crisis. All of the bright, kid-friendly décor at the hospital, all of the cheerful physicians and staff, all the kind words from family and friends - it didn't make a sand grain of difference in my desert of despair. I wept without reserve, as did many of a dozen other parents who watched their infants, toddlers, youngsters and teens taken from their arms for surgical ordeals.
Ten hours later, I got my daughter back. She was in a lot of pain, and will be for weeks. But the operation, while difficult, was successful. Mom and Dad survived, too, if only barely.
The day after the surgery, I caught part of George Bush's State of the Empire speech on the TV in my daughter's hospital room. I consider it a portent that just as I switched from Sponge Bob to CNN, Bush was declaiming about Social Security: "It's time to extend the same security, choice and ownership to young Americans" that others enjoy by rolling the dice on the stock market. (Note that I emphasized "choice.")
Earlier, in the hospital cafeteria, I had caught up on reading deferred due to the high anxiety over my daughter. Sitting on top of my stack of homework was a file on religion and schools, and I eyed a November Associated Press report on Gov. Jeb Bush losing a court fight to take your money and stuff it into church schools' pockets. It's clearly unconstitutional, and it's a stealth effort to wreck public education. Nonetheless, a Bush spokesman intoned: "The governor believes that we should honor the choice that these parents have made for their children."
(Again, my emphasis, but you get the drift of where I'm going.)
And, of course, whenever I want to bone up on the latest news about making "choices," I can always tune to Tampa's own Goebbels Squad Radio, a.k.a. WWBA 1040AM, for the sweetly shrill tones of Neal Boortz and Sean Hannity.
Boortz causes rapture among his neo-Klan listeners by almost daily asserting that poverty has nothing to do with generations of slavery and Jim Crow, that it is purely and entirely the result of "bad choices" by "those" people. Hannity of late has been relentless in shilling for the "choice" Bush promised in "privatizing" (read: gutting) Social Security. (I just love Hannity's revered model for Social Security reform - Chile's pension program that was concocted by the murderous right-wing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, a scheme so riddled with hype and hypotheticals that the nation's power elite, the army and police force, opted out.)
Which brings me back to daughter Amy. Thanks to George Bush's profligate spending and siphoning of middle class money to the extremely wealthy, Amy will start her adult life with the, um, "choice" of how to pay $40,000 in debt, her share of the trillions and counting national deficit.Let me tell you a little about Amy, her sister and three brothers. Until seven years ago, they had damn few "choices."
Their birth parents made the lousy choice of being born poor, and they stayed poor, eventually losing their children to Florida's woebegone Department of Children and Families. The kids spent their early years in one of east Hillsborough's many hardscrabble trailer parks before they made the "choice" to land in Florida's often-lethal foster care system.
Only after almost nine years did the kids find a real shelter, Joshua House, founded by former County Commissioner Dottie Berger, who actually makes me believe in such beings as "compassionate conservatives."
However, it's probable the kids would have been shipped back to the foster system, where they already had previously experienced unspeakable physical and sexual abuse while property of the state. Had they gone back, they likely would have remained there because so many children need adoption, and so few families will take them, especially a sibling group of five.
Part of the horrid truth about foster care is that medical problems often go unnoticed and untreated. The state really doesn't care, and the foster families are overwhelmed on their best days. Amy quite likely would have had the "choice" to spend her life crippled had not my wife and I happened along.
I did one thing in my life that was unselfishly good and became a dad - and that, I hope, gave Amy and her sibs some honest choices in life.
While going through the adoption process, I discovered an interesting fact. Rich folks don't often adopt poor kids. There are exceptions - we met a Tampa physician during our adoption process, and later I befriended a Florida politician who had to lie about sexual orientation in order to rescue a child from DCF's clutches.
In mandatory pre-adoption classes, my wife and I found ourselves in the sometimes awkward status of being the only would-be parents who were sorta upper middle class. As became clear, when the wealthy adopt, they seek out infants from private agencies - or the really trendy spend enough money to support a herd of foster children by going to places such as China in search of cute toddlers.
The tykes in state care face Dickensian futures, but since they can't vote or kick in big bucks to political campaigns, elected officials don't get weepy-eyed. What's a few dead kids when really important things, such as larding welfare onto corporations or making life tough for gays, are on the agenda?
I was thinking of that as I infiltrated a "right to life" march at Georgia's state Capitol last month. I started asking folks about adoption, and guess what? I couldn't find a single "lifer" who was an adoptive parent. I'm sure some are. But it underscored my longtime belief that these people love the fetus but hate the children. Or, at best, don't give a hoot for the children. (For a comparative sampling, I polled the first 20 people I encountered the same evening at a decidedly blue-state-leaning tavern, and two had adopted children from Georgia's child welfare system. Both of those people supported abortion rights.)
I don't endorse abortion. It's a lousy option made acceptable - to me - only when all other options are lousier. I offer a prayer of thanks each day that my sons and daughters were born - and that I was fortunate enough to find them.
But I worry about their future, especially when so many hucksters are promising them "choices."
Bush's Social Security "choice" would drain as much as $2 trillion from a system he claims is cash-strapped. So, we're going to wreck the system to save the system, right? Call that the "Vietnam option."
The real, unstated "choice" is that the plutocrats and their think tanks have loathed Social Security since its inception because it very slightly redistributes retirement money in the direction of the non-mega-wealthy.
Jeb's "choice" for schools is the old right's (and old Dixie's) contemptuous ploy to starve public education. Only the elite need quality schooling. And Boortz's poverty-equals-bad-choices is agit-prop for class warfare, with a not-subtle appeal to racism.
I want my precious Amy to have real choices. I don't want her generation's choice to be how to pay for crushing national debt. I want her educational choices determined by her character and achievement and not (solely) by dad's checkbook. I want her retirement choices to have the foundation of Franklin Roosevelt's wise social safety net. I want her America and her world to have the choice of peace, and not be victim to the forever-war of would-be empire makers.
Senior Editor John Sugg - who asks, "What happened to George Bush's promised expedition to Mars or his hydrogen-powered cars?" - can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at [email protected].