Every rare once in a while a politician says something worth thinking about.

Joe Biden was in Ottumwa, Iowa, a little while back, and amidst the usual hyperbole and hoo-haw he was quoted as saying, “We’ve got to start to reward not just wealth; we’ve got to reward work.”

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. philosopher to see he wasn’t just talking about a paycheck ...

Nobody’s going to deny that money casts a long shadow on how we’ve come to value things, and, even more so, how we value people.

From the snarky comment — ”If he’s so smart why isn’t he rich?” — to soliciting and taking advice on everything from foreign policy to diaper rash from people whose only measure of expertise is their perceived net worth, we’re quick and easy to equate wealth with value with nary a thought as to whether the yardstick we’re using is appropriate to what we’re trying to measure.

That’s not to say that money isn’t a useful tool to differentiate between say a Rolex and a Bulova, a Lamborghini and a Chevette, black truffles and Pennsylvania Dutchman canned mushrooms; but anyone who will say that a person who commands a lot of money is always of greater worth and value that one who knows how to wield a pipe wrench has never faced a leaky toilet at 2 a.m.

Let’s face it, when the kid has a stomach ache, who calls an investment banker?

No, when we need something done, something taken care of we look for someone who can do something about it, not the guy who inherited his grandpa’s portfolio.

It’s time way overdue we started giving the folks who do the real work a little respect ... no, a whole lot of respect, because the work they do, it’s not just important, it’s vital.

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Think about it for a minute, if the mayor and city council quit tomorrow, other than a few newspaper guys, darn near nobody would notice. But let the city sewer workers not show up, well, that’s going to raise a serious stink in a very short time.

When the politicians’ squabbling leads to a government shutdown what do people notice first? The closed rest stops on the interstate. Is there anyway quicker to generate an outraged citizen than to force her to squat along the roadside?

Yup, when it comes to meeting our real needs, it’s the guy with the mop and roll of toilet paper over the trust-fund scion every time.

Look around and we see it everywhere. Think about the last time you were stuck cooling your heels in an endless checkout line ... were you wishing more nimble-fingered checkers would materialize at the dozen or so closed registers or were you cussing the company for not hiring enough corporate vice presidents to confer concerning the situation?

When your computer crashes, what are the odds that your call to tech support rings through to Bill Gates?

How is it we’re told we can’t afford to provide the folks who harvest our crops, cook our food, clean our restrooms, fix our streets, care for our kids, bathe our old people, haul away our trash and do the thousands of things that keep our lights on and lives on track, a paycheck adequate for a place to live, enough to eat, a visit to the doctor when they’re sick, education for their kids and the prospect of a reasonably secure and comfortable life?

How is it that when a real estate tycoon stiffs his contractors we reward him with the presidency, but when a guy working two jobs and a side gig can’t afford food for his family, we take away his food stamps?

We owe them all of that, plus a healthy measure of respect and, yes, gratitude.

Next time you flush, give it a little thought.

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Jerome Christenson is a former reporter, columnist and editor at the Winona Daily News.


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