You’re probably asking “Who is Bob Collier?” Before last Tuesday, he was just a “regular joe” from southwest Georgia. Thanks to a New York Times article from Kevin Sack, Collier could become the next “Joe the Plumber” if he’s not careful. There are plenty of people who could fill that role, but for some reason Sack chose to write about Collier. As a fellow Georgian (I’m from the southeast part of the state), I couldn’t resist sharing Collier’s story.
In brief, Collier and his wife are your traditional, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, conservative southerners. I know that might conjure up a negative stereotype for a lot of you, but these aren’t bad people. I should know. Most of my family could be described the same way. But even good people, like Mr. Collier, can hold misguided views.
In the article, Collier is quoted as saying the following:
“This is about the future of our country as we know it, and may mean the end of our country as we know it….We’ve got to do something about those people who can’t get insurance. There has to be a safety net there. But I don’t want that safety net to catch too many people….I think you’re going to have all the efficiency of the post office with the compassion of the I.R.S….[and] lazy and irresponsible people who play the system.”
From his own words, you can tell that Collier believes in helping those who really need it, but he also believes in hard work and shuns what he perceives as laziness. Obviously, the line dividing “justified” assistance from “unjustified” assistance is very difficult to draw. Most people living in unfortunate circumstances are not there because they are lazy. There are just far too many factors involved for such a simple label to make sense. Honestly, I can remember being told frequently when I was growing up just how lazy I was. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’d still much rather watch football on TV than go for a run. Doesn’t that mean I’m lazy? But, I’m doing pretty well for myself. Maybe it’s only certain kinds of laziness that lead to the sort of personal decline folks like Collier like to refer to.
The point is, I think most Americans feel the way Collier does. They believe in deserving and undeserving poor. Conservatives may think most of the poor are lazy and undeserving, while progressives may not like to blame the poor for their predicament, but I genuinely believe that everyone has some concept of folks who need help and those who abuse the system.
In the last election, Republicans used Joe the Plumber for political gain, but I think Democrats could have done the same if they had framed things differently and been quicker on the draw. The same is true now.
Bob Collier is about the best example of “everyman” you can find in this country. There’s just one problem: He and his wife have voted Republican consistently since 1980. That fact alone probably prevents most Democrats from seeing the value in making an example out of Bob Collier. Some are even criticizing the Times for profiling a person so unrepresentative of the public’s views on health reform. But they ought to take a second look. Health reform would help Collier–even he admits “I know we need some reform”–but he has to be shown how he and his wife would benefit. Progressives are often criticized for being out of touch with the people. This is a chance for them to change that image, win the hearts and minds of the American people, and win big politically, by giving the country the health reform it so desperately needs.