Friday, March 2, 2007

Political Orphan, part 1

From the beginning, the 13 new states felt that their greatest responsibility was the protection of their citizens; after all, the state was the citizen in the strictest sense of the word. So important was the protection of the individual that most states would not even authorize the federal constitution until a Bill of Rights had been added to the main document. Those rights were for the states, which was equated with the individual. There almost seems to be a dynamic tension in the development of the United States -- on the one hand, the central, federal government being seen as a "necessary evil" for some things, while the states stood for the rights of the people. One reason there is debate on such amendments as the second one, the right to bear arms, is that the individual and the state were viewed as one. Some say that the Second Amendment is a guarantee of the individual's rights to arms, while others say it is only for the states. In truth, the advocates of the Bill of Rights saw no separation.

Actually, I may have much to say about those things later, but the major point I want to make today concerns the feeling I have every time I see a Texas Lottery commercial. It's bad enough that I have to wait in line to pay for my gasoline at the local convenience store while the person in front of me spends the equivalent price of a pair of new shoes hoping to hit the jackpot in the next drawing. The lottery hits me the hardest. Suddenly I realize that the state no longer has my best interests in mind. The "play responsibly" disclaimers make about as much sense as the beer commercials that tell me to let everything go, and then end with "drink responsibly."

Once, states prohibited gambling because they knew it was harmful to families and individuals. The problem is, there is so much money available from the lottery, and money talks. My state, and most others, are feeding an addiction that is killing people and destroying families, while not putting nearly as much in state coffers as they had imagined. Years ago, I read of one grocery chain in California that had quit selling lotto tickets because the owner noticed that sales had not gone up since the introduction of the lotto. People were spending the same amount of money at the store. Since some of it now went to the "ignorance tax," he realized that less was going for groceries. Kids were eating less, because parents were obviously bringing home less edible goods, thanks to the enticement of big bucks from a lottery.

When I see the money my state invests for commercials to get more people to gamble away their hard-earned paychecks, I feel unprotected and insignificant. Of course, in the commercials, everybody wins and dances in the streets. Just in case we need one more enticement, they remind us that lotto players are "contributing to public education." How noble! Obviously, my state also thinks I'm stupid enough to believe that several people are going to win at one time, and that their prime motivation is to help their childrens' schools.

As I see the crowds line up for the lotto tickets on Wednesday and Saturday, I don't see many designer clothes. Most of the cars parked out front are old cars. A lottery is a tax on the poor, and a confession by my state that they do not have my best interests in mind.

This is one reason I feel like a political orphan.

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