Would “Undercover Pol” Help Lawmakers Tune In to Reality?

In a recent blog post, Dr. Robert Reich delineated Gov. Romney’s eye-popping budget proposal to include saddling seniors with more health care burdens, cutting social benefits such as food stamps, and making it harder for the middle class and poor to send their children to college by cutting Pell grants. 

I propose that perhaps, before any budget slashing begins, Governor Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan should take part in a new version of “Undercover Boss,” as I recently suggested on a morning radio show with Olympia’s Dick Pust.

Maybe we’ll call it “Undercover Pol.” Let’s send our participating politician into a family home where our undercover star has no job… and the mortgage is due. Let’s send them grocery shopping on food stamps. They’ll quickly find out, as I delineated in my own experience with the downhill slide of unemployment, that $76 a month for a family of three doesn’t go very far.

Maybe they’ll find it easier to relate to and understand how quickly one – such as I – became one of the 69% of all single mothers who head “economically instable” households.  How would they choose to cut their own budgets? Where would they start? Would they clip coupons more? Cut back on fresh veggies? Rethink how much meat they used? Learn to eat just twice a day? Go grocery shopping when the kids are in school, with a list, and religiously calculate the exact total to save themselves the embarrassment of not having enough money at check out?

Would they suffer the indignity of signing their children up for free lunches and state health care assistance? Start shopping at the dollar store for items? Or finally break down to go to the food bank?

Would those who are so quick to eliminate all help to those who have been so negatively impacted by the financial shenanigans on Wall Street actually “get it?” Would they experience a change of heart when they realize that, according to the US Department of Agriculture, one in six children live with a condition called “food insecurity” – an existence of not knowing if, when or where they will find their next meal?   Or that there are at least 4-5 children in every classroom who are not sure if they’ll have dinner that night?

Then, at the end of our episode of “Undercover Pol,” what will they have learned? Will they realize the hardships the long-term unemployed are suffering, and that all they truly want is a job? Will they realize that while $76 of food stamps might not seem like a lot to them, to a family who is relying on that $76 … that’s a fortune and can make the difference in putting food on the table?

And then, what changes would they be willing to make (as the CEO participants of “Undercover Boss” do)? What accommodations would they seek out for their constituents who are struggling? Would they insist on improving education for everyone, no matter their zip code? Would they insist on making some form of continued education (trade school, associate’s, etc) available to as many people as possible? Would they realize these investments in the 99% are investments in America’s economic security and pre-eminence in innovation?

Or would they shrug off the experience, and return to their “regularly scheduled programming?” Business as usual. No change.

I’d like to see that show. It would be telling if a politician could look in the faces of these children and explain why there wasn’t peanut butter in the cabinet. Why they couldn’t afford to turn on the heat. Or why the car was just repossessed.

But then again, someone who is affected by these situations enough to insist on change, insist on making a difference, or insist on ensuring even the least among us are cared for, isn’t really a politician.

He (or She) would be a leader.


Dr. Christina McCale is the author of Waiting for Change: Impacts on life, family, work, and the new 99% reality.