As I write this, it is October 27, 2008, nine days from the presidential election, and I couldn’t care less who wins. Frankly, I’m too tired to care. And this is not like me. Typically, I would be following the political discourse, particularly for a national election, avidly.
But here’s the reality: I’m too d*mn busy trying to make it in my own life to worry about the big picture right now. And the other sad fact: I don’t like either candidate too terribly much, I feel like it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils.
McCain I trust more on foreign policy and security issues. He’s probably the better candidate for my pocketbook too, since I guess I’ve counted as “rich” some years – pre-real estate career, however, that is for sure. I don’t even know what to say about Sarah Palin. I respect the h*ll out of her as a working mother getting it all done while raising four kids. I’m not sure that she has a clue on most major issues. L-O-V-E what her stylist has done, however.
[ASIDE: Maybe I should run for political office so I can have a stylist. Lord knows I need help in that department. I want Rachel Zoe. NO Taylor. She’s mean, like me in the morning before coffee, except all day long. As someone who has probably one of the world’s coolest and cushiest jobs EVER, what’s her excuse? Love me some Brad. Okay, reality TV show interlude done….]
I like the idea of Obama, the “audacity of hope” and all that high-falutin’ rhetoric about doing what’s best for the world, principles, blah, blah, blah. But in reality I find him a little…well…smarmy and smug. On national security I don’t think Obama has a foreign policy clue. I mean, seriously. Sitting down with Kim Il-Jong without preconditions to negotiate? Come. On. I got my B.A. in Foreign Policy in a hundred years ago (well, 1991 to be exact) and even I know that’s a terrible idea. And if even his running mate, Joe Biden, is sure there will be some type of homeland security issue to test Obama’s mettle early in his term, that’s more than a little frightening.
I think who I choose will come down to what I think is the bigger issue: national security or the economy. But what I’m worried about this particular minute is my own private economy.
Obama has clearly articulated his economic policy. He’s going to tax “the rich” more, and cut taxes for “working families.” Who likes this policy? Well, I think it depends on how you characterize yourself. And I suspect most people do NOT consider themselves rich, so they nod and agree and say “let’s tax those terrible rich people more.”
But is someone making $75,000, or $150,000, or even $250,000, really “rich?” I’m going to give you the typical lawyer answer: It depends. It depends on a lot of things, one of the most important of which is where you live and the cost of living. On $75,000 in Manhattan, you sure as heck wouldn’t be rich, and you’d probably just be squeezing by. In fact, even with $250,000 living in Manhattan, I don’t think you’d be “rich.” But on the other hand, $75,000 in Zanesville, Ohio might make you “rich,” by certain people’s standards, particularly if you were an individual with no family to support.
I’d probably pay more under Obama’s economic plan, because my income level is over what seems to be a $75,000 family cutoff. But what about the fact that I’m a small business owner, and have to pay all my business expenses, and my taxes, and my health care insurance and costs, out of that income? AND support a child? AND pay an exorbitant amount each month towards my graduate student loans? It makes me more than a little cranky, and I’ll tell you why:
I got a great start because my parents believed in the transformative power of education. They scrimped to put my brothers and I through private secondary school. My father paid for my college education (although I paid part of my “spending money” with part-time jobs), and we happen to live in a state with one of the best public universities - no, make that THE BEST public university - in the United States (Go Wahoos!). And I invested in MYSELF, and took on an exorbitant amount of graduate student loans, in order to go to law school. And then worked my tail off to graduate near the top of my class, and to make Law Review, and to juggle school, and marriage, and a baby in my last year, so I could get an offer to work at the top law firm in Richmond and make a lot of money.
That salary put me squarely in the middle class, probably in the upper middle class. And I acknowledge that I had advantages many other people do not: my health, loving parents who emphasized education, a middle class upbringing, enough drive to get into good schools.
So what do I get for all that hard work? I get to give the government a much bigger percentage of my hard earned dollars. I will be taxed on my income, which might in a good year qualify me as “rich” by a politician’s standards. But I don’t get any tax breaks for the crushing student loan debt, many of my legitimate business expenses, or my exorbitant out-of-pocket medical expenses [ASIDE: $1,100 month in premiums and prescription drugs, before anything like dental, eye care, or medical expenses for myself or my daughter. That’s what happens when you are an entrepreneur with a pre-existing condition that has to buy insurance on the open market after leaving employer-based health care. Someone please explain to me how THAT is fair?]. So I get a little ticked off when politicians call people like me “rich” and want to tax my income even more in order to “spread it around.”
I WORKED for everything I’ve got. I think I should be able to keep more of my own d*mn money. Am I materialistic and cruel? I don’t think so. I absolutely believe in a social safety net. Societies should be judged by how they care for their weakest and neediest members. And one of my favorite quotes is “To whom much is given, much is expected.” But a safety net should be just that – a NET, something to catch you when you’re falling, when there is dire need, when you are most endangered. Not a place to take up permanent residence, construct a townhome, to sit back and eat bon bons and wait for the next hand out. The system got broken a long time ago, when the shame got taken out of the system and benefits became ENTITLEMENTS. Entitlements as in “you owe me.”
I want to be crystal clear. I am not talking about programs for the poor or the disabled – housing vouchers, food stamps, Medicaid. Those are absolutely necessary safety net programs, in my opinion. I think the implementation of some of these programs is total you-know-what. I do think more should be done help people get out of poverty, rather than trapping them in a downward generational spiral of illiteracy and illegitimacy and limited options. But that is a topic for another day.
It is the major programs and policies of the Federal government that benefit the non-poor that are my major issue. In no particular order, the Big Three are (i) Social Security; (ii) Medicare; and (iii) environmental policy. Beware. Rant follows.
Social Security: It’s broken. Politicians, you spineless babies who won’t even speak about the reality, much less ADDRESS IT, it is your fault. You needed to cut benefits, increase the retirement age, means test for eligibility. But you won’t, because the most powerful lobby in the world, the AARP, would rise up against you and you’d lose your cushy government jobs. Baby Boomers, you are even more at fault, for your selfish, whinging [British version of “whining,” I’ve always loved British slang. It’s somehow so much more elegant], “I’ve earned it” attitude and refusal to even contemplate limited changes around the edges. Shared sacrifice isn’t in your vocabulary. You have bankrupted your children, and your children’s children. You should be ashamed.
[NOTE: Please check out the "Aging and End of Life Issues" section of the Wikipedia Baby Boomer definition. Absolutely priceless.]
Medicare: Ditto. Totally broken. And I feel like I have a lot more authority to speak on this topic, as a former corporate healthcare lawyer. Do you know that Medicare has only been around since 1966? Did you know that before that people paid for healthcare out-of-pocket, or by the barter system, with the local doctor or hospital? Did you know the eligibility age for Medicare was set at 65 because actuarial tables showed most Americans DIED BEFORE THAT? Did you know that as of 2006, 16% of the Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) was spent on healthcare costs? A HUGE portion of healthcare dollars are spent keeping individuals alive in intensive care for the last weeks of life. Medical advances means the average life expectancy for Americans is 77.8 years (!). The system was never designed to provide healthcare for 13+ years of life following retirement. We cannot afford to do it. But, oh, those Baby Boomers, they’ve earned it. [I hope the sarcasm is coming through loud and clear].
The Environment: The Baby Boomers again. You have been huge (the hugest? Is that a word?) contributors to the destruction of the natural world, with the endless and ever-expanding miles of paved highway and your gas-guzzling 7-seater SUVs, to reach the suburbs, and then exurbs, for the ever larger and more elaborate McMansions. It is the “more, more, more!” attitude again. Why in the world does anyone “need” 3,400 square feet for a family of five? My Dad grew up in a three bedroom, one bathroom, 1,000 square foot house with his parents and two siblings. That was it. No “master suite” with walk-in closet, no media room, no separate playroom for the kids. Guess what happened when the house was too full? Kids played outside. Novel concept. My Mom’s parents have lived in the same house in Ginter Park for over 50 years. If my grandparents, the “Greatest Generation,” could buy a house, own it for the full mortgage term, pay it off, and continue to live there, and be perfectly happy, why the heck can’t their kids? The simple answer: The Baby Boomers DON’T WANT TO. They like their huge houses. They like all their “stuff.” They want to keep up with the Joneses. They enjoy conspicuous consumption. They feel ENTITLED, long term impact be damned.
A colleague of mine, a vibrant, attractive, healthy woman in her early 50s, said the Baby Boomers want their toys, their sports cars, their Harleys, and their boats, because they are ready to “play” after working “their whole lives.” And she’s talking about playing NOW, as someone that’s 50, or 55, or 60…not even at the official Medicare retirement age! Uhhhh……no, if you stop working at 55, you have another 20-30 YEARS to live, and while you “play,” because “you earned it,” your kids and their kids will be working to pay for your play time. Hope you have a great time in your RV with the bumper sticker that says “Spending My Kids’ Inheritance.” More than you know, more than you know.
[ASIDE: I do find it amusing that I live in a town that is home to a public opinion and research project dedicated solely to studying Boomers, the “Boomer Project.” They love themselves so much they are studying themselves and producing glowing reports about their greatness. Does anyone besides me find that blackly humorous? Talk about some navel-gazing!].
Neither McCain or Obama is really addressing these critical and complicated issues head on. They’re just another pair of politicians, fighting it out to be the leader of the free world. Why does politics seem to attract the worst, rather than the best?
I’m disillusioned. I’m bitter. I’m tired. I don’t think anything is going to change. Obama is energizing a whole generation, but it doesn’t seem any of those folks understand his actual, articulated policies. Generations X and Y, he is going to tax you more. The most radical proposal is to "adjust" the payroll tax. While Obama claims he will not eliminate the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, he will "ask" (my absolute favorite, as if it would be voluntary!) those making over $250,000 to "contribute a bit more to Social Security to keep it sound." Talk about a redistribution of wealth! And while I personally would not mind giving more of my share to help the truly needy, I’m d*mn sure NOT interested in giving more of my money to pay for dysfunctional government programs that benefit previous generations at my and my daughter’s expense. The Emperor has no clothes, people. Do the research.
McCain will tax me less, but I don’t believe his policies are designed to re-engineer Social Security or Medicare. And he doesn’t seem to offer much on the environment. So while he might be slightly better on pocketbook issues, I don’t believe even the self-described “maverick” is ready to face down the AARP over the Trifecta. On those big issues, I expect we’ll continue with the status quo, and continue to “feed the beast” that is the federal government, rather than making cogent, reasoned decisions to re-design entitlement programs with a timeline greater than the next election cycle in mind. The Generation War will continue. The Gender Wars will continue. The Class Wars will continue. So called “cultural elites,” the “Blue Staters,” or my personal favorite term, “Limousine Liberals,” will continue to sneer down their noses at residents of “fly-over land,” the “Red Staters.”
So I don’t really care who wins on Election Day. I don’t think it matters. And that makes me sad.