Mary Pitt: America's Seniors Are Not Cowards
America's Seniors Are Not Cowards
by Mary Pitt
In the public debate over the proposed ''reform'' of Social Security, the Democrats are being accused of ''trying to scare the old folks'' by opposing the eventual destruction of the most successful social program in our history. It is said that the nation's senior citizens are afraid of losing their benefits and that fear is leading to the opposition by the AARP and all other senior organizations. Nothing could be further from the truth!
As a reminder for those with short memories, the people in question comprise "The Greatest Generation" of which Tom Brokaw wrote so glowingly. This generation began during the depth of the Great Depression and, almost without exception, were intimately familiar with the privations of their own families during that horrible ordeal. Many recall the impoverishment of senior family members, grandparents and, even, great-grandparents whom the parents of the children felt obligated to help despite the poverty of their own nuclear families. Virtually everybody born after 1925 have memories of living in conditions that were far short of being desirable during those long, miserable years.
By the time this generation matured, the nation was at war and they were called upon to defend freedom all around the globe. Many fell in battle while others were maimed for life. The women who were left behind became heroic in their own right, throwing off the concept of "women's work" and going into factories and shipyards to keep materiel flowing to their loved ones who were in danger. The children of that generation also were deprived of the things which we take for granted today. Food was rationed, money was scarce, and toys were rare. For those who are seniors today, poverty and want were facts of life and they knew how to survive. They still do. While they do not desire to return to that state, they know their strength as well as their negative value in the current scheme of things. Few are so selfish that they would want to deprive their descendants of any of the pleasures which they currently enjoy in order to provide for these aged relatives. Much of the standard of living which we enjoy today should be credited to the fact that families no longer have to support their elder members.
This generation of elders are not a bunch of pathetic little invalids, cringing in nursing homes and hovels and crying for a public handout. They are your parents and grandparents, strong and still very much in charge of their lives and their decisions, in most cases, and expecting the respect to which you were taught that they are entitled. Their judgement and their actions have formed the framework of your life up until now. They are the same people whom you tried to convince that you were the perfect child, and they were there to provide pennies and nickels and then the quarters, dollars, and the "Benjamins" whenever you felt the need. They are the same people with the ability to cut through your best fabrications and insist that you tell the truth and then to help you to face the consequences. They have lost loved ones to wars, to accidents, and to natural causes, but they have continued to provide you with homes, love, and other necessities of life, rearing the wealthiest, most pampered generation in history.
However, they retain the wisdom which they have gained the hard way. They have been conned by experts, survived wars and rumors of wars, fallen for lies by previous politicians, (some of whom they sent packing), and have developed their defenses against the threats and promises of scoundrels. They know that there is still almost two trillion dollars in the "trust fund" in Treasury bonds that can be used to continue the benefits far into the future. They know that the national debt has been allowed to grow so large that it will be inconvenient for these bonds to be redeemed. And they also know that defaulting on the debt which these bonds represent is tantamount to declaring national bankruptcy. Let's see them try that with China, our major national creditor! They are not at all likely to accept the excuse that "there is no money to pay" because American millionaires "needed tax cuts". Now the people in your government are trying to convince you that you are in danger of having your money used to pay the benefits for your parents because Congress and a long line of Presidents have spent the money that was entrusted to them and cannot afford to pay it back!
The seniors are also reasonable people. If the President had proposed a national mutual fund system to which people could subscribe individually in small increments, in addition to Social Security, they would have applauded the opportunity for younger people to contribute toward their own supplemental retirement income, since all other plans have proven to be risky and unsatisfactory. But, in order to do that, it should not be necessary to strip those same young people of the safety net of Social Security in case of premature death or disability. They know of the sorts of disasters that can occur within families, having experienced many of them on a personal level. Any family has a possibility of having a developmentally disabled child, one who is autistic, or one who suffers from a chronic childhood disease that requires lifetime care. Even with an insignificant investment in the stock market, the average family cannot afford to maintain these dependent children. Without the Survivors and Dependents provisions of the Social Security system, the loss of the breadwinner would be no less than disastrous and destructive of the entire family. It does little good to have a "retirement" fund when you are unable to work and need disability benefits NOW!
The "greatest generation" have watched with great pride as their children and grandchildren emerged into the American work-place, well educated and ambitious, gaining in stature and in wealth, and knowing that the opportunites that they enjoy are made possible by the fact that they did not have to quit school and go to work in order to contribute to the care of their families, that they are able to establish their own homes and families without concern for any impoverished elders or dependent brothers and sisters. No, the concerns of the senior citizens of America are not for themselves. Their thoughts have always been concentrated on the welfare of those who come after them. They have "walked through the fire" and survived. They have "saved the world for democracy". They are empowered and they know it, and their energies are channeled toward leaving our country and the world a better place. To that end, they oppose the virtual destruction of a system that has provided security for them and their parents, saving two generations of Americans from the shame of inflicting grinding poverty upon those they love.
On the other hand, they have paid into Social Security all their working lives and have seen their money, in addition to the income taxes that they have paid, pay for unbelievable growth in the American economy and the flowering of prosperity throughout the land. They are glad that the funds that were deposited in the United States Treasury were safe, due to the "good faith and credit" of the nation. Now they learn that there is no "good faith" in those in charge of the government and the ballooning deficit has resulted in the loss of the nation's "credit". The payments that are being made by the workers now is proposed to be used for paying current benefits, leaving the funds that they themselves have paid over the years as "disposable income" to the current government, an indebtedness that will be subject to default rather than returned to the rightful owners.
In addition, these people know from painful experience the foolhardiness of relying for retirement income on the mercurial stock market, on 401k's which are dependent on that market, or even on company pensions plans which rely on honesty and the "business savvy" of the directors of the corporations. When all of them fail, as they have been known to do, Social Security, in its present form, is, has been, and will be an invaluable safety net to guard against total impoverishment. It is important that those with intent to harm the program under the guise of "reform" understand that our seniors will not be led astray by their lies or by their assurances. "Privatizing" it to make it a part of "the ownership society" may impress those who are "still wet behind the ears" and willing to buy into the "get-rich-quick" promises of a bunch of vacuum cleaner salesmen. When Congress feels the heat of their ire, they may measure their political futures rather than continuing to play party politics. And the nation will be better off for that!
Furthermore, these are not the sort of people to whom one can lie with impunity. They are experienced in inter-personal relationships and have been lied to by all sorts of con men and "bull**** salesmen". They have demonstrated the fact that they are not buying the hokum that is currently being fed to them in an effort to con the American people once again. It would behoove the President and the Congress to pay attention to their protests. They do vote, more reliably than any other component of the electorate and are quite ready, willing, and able to offer tickets home for any elected representative that dares threaten their families and the American way of life. If this effort to destroy the most stable and effective program of the governmental system in our history continues, a regime change could be taking place in Washington, beginning with the next election.
It's not smart to try to con the old folks!
Mary Pitt is a septuagenarian Kansan who is self-employed and active in the political arena. Her concerns are her four-generation family and the continuance of the United States as a democracy with a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people". Comments and criticism may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.