The guy had stringy blond hair falling below his U.S. Army cap and rotted little stumps where his teeth used to be. He said he was homeless, so naturally I thought about Parris Glendening. He said he was disabled, so naturally I thought about Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The guy said his name was James. He was standing in the mid-day chill outside Lexington Market, asking for handouts in a voice grown raw. He took a step backward and withdrew into silence when asked for his last name and muttered something about pins in his back from an old Army accident.
Where do you stay at night, he was asked. In my sleeping bag, he said. But where, he was asked. Inner Harbor, he said. He looked about 40, but had parchment skin too old for his years. He seemed a little out of his head.
Once, we imagined we could help those like James. Once, we imagined we wanted to. Now this governor of Maryland, Glendening, talks of eliminating a $35 million-a-year program helping the poor. And his lieutenant governor, who still wears her maiden name like a banner, attempts to defend the move and compromises a family history in the process.
Poor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She took Glendening's offer to be his running mate, and then found herself valued strictly for her money. What's the price of political Siberia? Then she met with advocates of the poor last week, carrying this Kennedy history of sticking up for the impoverished when it hasn't been fashionable, when it hasn't been politically profitable, when nobody else wanted to do it, and she tried to defend the killing of this program that gives $157 a month to disabled, unemployable adults. What's the price of selling out a legacy?
This Glendening says we need to cut spending, even as he OKs a sweetheart deal bringing big early pension benefits to himself and some pals. He backs off only when public outrage threatens to consume his administration in its earliest hours.
He zipped through the last campaign boasting of leaving his county, Prince George's, with $45 million in the bank. This turns out, instead, to be $131 million in shortfall. Simple math makes this a $176 million misunderstanding. Prince George's County now faces laying off 830 people. About 300 are schoolteachers and administrators. This is the legacy of Glendening, who
approaches public rapture when lecturing on the benefits of education.
He begins to look like a man giving with one hand and taking with the other. This $35 million poverty program, for example. Its defenders point out that it aids those with medically certified disabilities and no other income.
In Annapolis last week, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was asked, what will happen to these people now? In the process of embarrassing herself, she declared that she had once slept in a homeless shelter. Finding no one impressed, she then mouthed jTC the standard administration lines about school improvement and crime prevention and jobs.
Beautiful. Shall we send these disabled people back to school? Or shall we hire more cops to protect us from them when, unable to support themselves any other way, they turn to crime?
The running of government is always a tricky balancing act, a function of money and muscle and the public sentiment of the moment. The current sentiment is to suspect everyone: not only those behind the big government programs, but those who benefit from them, who now are suspected of being deadbeats.
Is there truth to the suspicion? Some, of course. Are there also genuine victims, unable to help themselves, honestly needful of government help for survival? Absolutely. But, in the current mood, we give them the same back of our hands.
It's nothing personal. It's just a governor who won by 6,000 votes and senses the mood of the moment. With this guy, moments count. He cut himself a sweetheart pension deal and changes his memory of it from moment to moment. He brags of a nonexistent budget surplus and thinks the moment of discovery will never arrive.
He sends out a woman named Kennedy, once linked with assisting the poor, to defend the elimination of a program for the disabled. When she signed on for the job, did she imagine such a moment wouldn't arrive in the current atmosphere?
So we find this fellow James, standing outside Lexington Market with his hand out and his stringy blond hair falling below his Army cap. Get a job, everyone wishes to tell him now, only we're not exactly certain who would hire him. He has rotted stumps where he once had teeth. He is stiff and calcified beyond his years. He seems half out of his head.
Yes, he says, he gets some money from the government. He says the money goes for pain pills. He mentions the killing cost of a large bottle of Tylenol. He mentions the pins in his back. He asks for a handout, and you reach for a dollar but wonder if he's really faking his troubles. What the hell, it's the mood of the moment.