BRAZILE: Hard times emergency

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COMMENTARY:

February is Black History Month. Throughout this shortest of months, I have traveled to small towns and large college campuses celebrating the recent history made last November.

Whether speaking before an audience in my hometown of New Orleans or an elegant crowd in Buffalo hours before the plane-crash tragedy struck that city, I found people of every background eager to learn more about their new president and how events are unfolding in Washington, D.C.

More engaged than ever before, Americans are paying attention. The questions they pose are all too often not answered by the news media. What’s in the stimulus plan? How will it impact our lives? Will seniors benefit? And the question people seem most eager to have answered: When will the partisan bickering end?

It’s easy to answer questions about the stimulus plan because I have read enough of its contents to know that there are many good provisions - from helping struggling state governments to giving more than 95 percent of taxpayers modest tax cuts. This bill was really pulled together with input from both major parties. Despite all the public ranting to the contrary, there are key provisions written by the Republicans in the bill. But given all of the noise from inside the “conservative echo chamber,” the word is “protest, protest, protest.” Fair enough.

But after spending time in a restaurant in Greenville, S.C., staring at the chattering class on cable commenting on President Barack Obama signing of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I now have an answer to those ranting about the new recovery and reinvestment package. I found it on the restaurant wall: “Pardon the dust. Uncommon changes are coming.”

Sooner or later, uncommon changes will come to Washington, D.C. The most uncommon of which will be the cessation of partisan bickering. These are dire times, with no time for playing games. There is too much hard work to be done. And we need a rising tide to lift all boats, not just the federal life rafts issued to Wall Street fat cats who get upset every time the president focuses on someone other than them.

We are all struggling. But for those who have always struggled to get by with less, it’s even worse. We need something to get America moving again. We need the stimulus bill.

The working poor need help. People living in houses last year are living in shelters today, and they’re praying there will be room for them tomorrow when still others join them there. They need help - now. Those able to keep the wolf at the door with a part-time job know there isn’t a chance in hell it will be full-time any time soon. They need help - now. One of my best friends lives in Maine, where, to afford the heating oil, she had to buy in advance when its cost was highest. She must set the thermostat so low that “room temperature” is a relative phrase. This middle-class single mother of two needs help - now.

The stimulus package gives decent folks just a little more money to get by during these hard times. And, hey, Mr. Elected Naysayer, if you have a problem with that - get over it. Look, as I have, at the long lines of mothers at food pantries in church basements. Learn how many more thousands of people will ask Goodwill for a winter coat. Watch families getting turned away from overflowing shelters, forced to spend another night in their cars. Listen as mothers worry aloud about how even with longer shifts waiting tables, there still isn’t enough money to pay rent and the electric bill, and buy food.

Good people are struggling, Mr. Naysayer. This broad economic stimulus plan is for them - and all of us on the brink of becoming “them.” So for the love of God and your fellow citizen and taxpayer, put away your mean-spirited talking points and give a prayer of thanks that “those people” will finally the help they so desperately need.

Mr. Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 24. I hope he tells those waiting for help that someone hears their concerns. I hope he remind us, and especially Mr. Naysayer, that the helping hand the federal government is offering through the stimulus plan is not a handout. It’s a hand up for folks eager to once again stand on their own two feet.

A friend of mine from Oregon sent this e-mail: “I’m watching Obama in Colorado signing the stimulus bill. I liked how he ended his speech, ‘Let’s get to work!’” Another friend from Missouri sent an e-mail to remind me that help was especially needed for seniors. “I see old folks at the clinic or the grocery store who need much more help than they’re getting,” he wrote. “People may think giving Social Security recipients an extra $250 is not going to help, but everybody I know has already figured out how they’re going to spend it.”

Other e-mails voice a different opinion, some so coldly uncaring that they make my blood boil. But during my visit to West Virginia the other day, I promised myself I would not demonize “those people.” Instead, I vowed to focus on how lives will be improved, how many more teachers employed, how many construction workers back on the job, and perhaps our country saved, by the extra money the bill will put in people’s empty pockets.

In these hard times, I am going to continually remind myself of that little sign hanging in the Greenville restaurant: “Pardon the dust. Uncommon changes are coming.”

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