I’d like to answer the question posed by the Republican candidate for President: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” in a way I keep hoping the Democratic candidate for President would respond but hasn’t; for a “real people/real lives” perspective:
There’s an email forwarding around the nation with the heading: “This Senior Citizen Nailed It!!!!” and a final proud recommendation that you “pass it on” – it being so good and all.
It’s in response to remarks purportedly made by WY Senator Alan Simpson while he was on President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Committee, calling “senior citizens the Greediest Generation” and comparing Social Security to a milk cow with 310 million teats. Here’s an excerpt of that email:
“I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying into Medicare from Day One, and now you morons propose to change the rules of the game. Why? Because you idiots mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal money from Medicare to pay the bills.
I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you incompetent bastards spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money….
To add insult to injury, you label us “greedy” for calling “bullshit” on your incompetence. It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Congress who are the “greedy” ones. It is you and your fellow nutcases who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream…And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son of a bitch.”
To start, here’s what Senator Simpson actually said after noting that, while every interest group that testified before his committee agreed that the mounting federal debt is a national tragedy, they would then insist that government funding for their interest area shouldn’t be touched:
“We had the greatest generation (meaning his, he’s 79) – I think this is the “greediest generation” (meaning we Boomers). “I really believe there are more patriots in America than selfish… people.” So, in reality:
- he wasn’t talking about “senior citizens” as no Boomer would ever consider him/herself one,
- he never mentioned cows or their teats,
- he actually voiced his belief that these “greedy” folks coming before him did not represent the vast majority of Americans, and
- his primary recommendation to save SS/Medicare, against which this supposed writer was railing, was to raise the age of eligibility a few years to stay true to the original formula for benefits disbursement, one based on life expectancy (which has lengthened by almost 15 years since SS was first passed in 1935)….
But what’s even sorrier than yet another email making the rounds that is raging against something that didn’t happen (in this case, wasn’t said), is the raging itself as an acceptable if not laudable trait. The use of rhetoric not even becoming of a 17 year old is elevated, embraced, celebrated…forwarded (how many parents do you know who would allow their child to talk this way?…well, let’s say how many whose kids aren’t now in foster care…?).
Had Senator Simpson actually said those things, this writer’s point would have been much more powerfully made by allowing the facts to speak for themselves, presented in a more respectful fashion (I have paid my dues and am not greedy to want what I’ve earned; here’s some examples of Congress appearing “greedy” that belie your point).
Nelson Mandela biographer John Carlin, found that this man, one of the greatest world leaders our generation has known in part by being able to impress even his arch enemies, became great because “he learned that succumbing to vengeful passions brought fleeting joys at the cost of lasting benefits” and that “…respect (is a weapon) of political persuasion as powerful as any gun.”
We need not first be Mandela’s – imprisoned and tortured yet able to bring an end to his country’s egregious practice of apartheid through his own forgiveness and generosity; or Ghandi’s – able to bring an end to British imperial occupation of his country through peaceful and passive (fasting/hunger strike) protest – in order to voice our discontent.
But we can at least refuse to admire words…and emails…like this one.
Recently, one column directly below the other in the Op Ed section of my newspaper, both about fixing Medicare, attempted to persuade us of each writer’s position on the issue…one from Right leaning David Brooks, the other from Ezra Klein who appears to be tilting more left-ish. They did this by appealing to our Spock-selves, using the logic of statistics.
Mr. Brooks cited the following in his attempt to convince us that a system with greater government control by a team of experts is akin to a walk in Wonderland: “(existing competitive model)…costs are 41% below expectations”; Mr. Klein tried to convince us that countries with greater government control have far better, and more cost-effective systems than do we, by citing the following statistic: “The Medicare Advantage (competitive model) program…ended up costing about 120% of what Medicare costs.”
Hmmmm… the competitive model costs us less, except when it’s costing us more.
This is the problem with statistics. The numbers may be real, the science behind them solid, but you can easily find what you want to support your position, using numbers to tell a very different story about the same specific issue.
It is understandable, then, that folks with some willingness (and ability) to think critically, will rely only marginally on easily manipulated (or carefully chosen) numbers to make important decisions.
Instead, here is my recommended recipe for deciding the best course of action: start with your fact-based numbers – fine (I am a particular fan of cost/benefit analyses) – but then add a big dollop of common sense, a generous sprinkle of compassion, add plenty of historic track record, throw in a dash of learning from others (mistakes and successes), and season with what is best for the common good (my fellow Boomers, “keep your hands off my Medicare” is a fine example of thinking “me” vs. common good).
Crucial decisions on how to fix seriously dysfunctional systems without doing more harm in the process, like reducing our national debt while maintaining a decent quality of life for all Americans, depend on this balanced approach.
This was the reaction of 57 year old Charlene Guidry, who lives in a small LA river town along the flooding Mississippi, when she learned that the Army Corps of Engineers would be opening the Morganza spillway to keep both large cities from being demolished by flood waters, sacrificing her town of Butte La Rose along the way.
Would you be so gracious, willing to accept sacrificing the good of the one for the good of the many? In your heart, do you agree with the line from Star Trek II, Wrath of Kahn, delivered by Spock right before he sacrificed his life to save the ship: “The Needs of the Many Must Outweigh the Needs of the Few or the One.”
Or for you is it: “I know this will hurt many other people, but I’ve gotta take care of my own needs/wants, and if that causes suffering to others, well, so be it…that’s not my problem…”
Do Boomers believe in shared sacrifice? After all, sacrifice is not a generational characteristic, do it’s not something we’ve done very well thus far:
- That’s what got so many of us into financial trouble (not saving, or not buying that “too much home” because both required a certain amount of sacrifice);
- That’s why our GenX progeny were labeled “latch-key kids” (because being home with the kids required some career sacrifice which in turn wouldn’t allow us that terrific, vs. just fine, income);
- It’s the reason so many corporations, of which we are in charge, do exactly what we protested in our youth – line top management pockets at the expense of their workers, or while racking up human rights violations.
Exacerbating this generational trait is an ever more insular world, where we interact face-to-face far less, via texting/emailing/internet chatting etc. far more. Unlike our parents, who, without such technology, relied on personal interactions for socializing and communicating, so were far more “real-life” connected to those around them, we can use electronics to buffer ourselves from the consequences to others of our choices.
Clearly, Ms. Guidry, a fellow Boomer, believes in shared sacrifice. So much so that she was willing to accept the loss of her home so that millions of others wouldn’t experience that fate.
We can use her as our inspiration; I do. Shared sacrifice is a necessity for keeping this country great. Always was (it was one of the first calls made to an infant nation by George Washington), always will be.
So, start by determining what you’re willing to give up for the common good. It’s not a Boomer characteristic, but it does fit nicely with another of our generational traits; our ability to instill great societal changes.
We can start with ourselves.
I rarely do this, but this piece by Mark Bittman is so well constructed, with solid recommendations for fixing our food supply, that I want to spread his news as far as possible.
Share it with all you know around the world. In many ways, our lives depend on it.