By Manifesto Joe
To the best of my knowledge, it wasn't old, sick people who recklessly crashed the world financial system or got the U.S. embroiled in two (or three) wars without figuring out how to pay for them. Nor was it they who kept cutting taxes for big corporations and wealthy individuals, to the point where a record surplus became record deficits.
But, as the congressional "supercommittee" tries to figure out ways to slash the deficit and national debt -- well, it's been said that they aren't supposed to have Social Security and Medicare in the equation. Don't bet on that.
Since the Republicans took control of the U.S. House, with many of the freshmen members coming directly from the Tea Party "movement," the House agenda is rigidly right-wing. That means that taxes stay just where they are, a joy ride for the rich. Since these are generally pro-military hawks, don't look for defense spending to take many hits. Corporate welfare will probably continue, because these folks know where their campaign contributions come from.
So, where is there left to go for spending cuts? Only one place -- the so-called "entitlements." That means, for the most part, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. All campaign rhetoric aside, when the dust settles, that's where the scalpel will be drawn.
When I said that old, sick people didn't do any of the things that racked up so much debt, I meant that they weren't the direct instigators. But their consent was necessary, and a sad, just plain ridiculous number of people 65 and older vote Republican. They've been giving their consent for over 30 years.
In that time, the U.S. economy has doubled in size, but wages and salaries have remained stagnant. Want to guess who's been the big beneficiary of this?
As the U.S. economy has been thusly restructured, the middle class has been having a long war waged on it, and in large part its members, especially the older ones, seem unaware that this has even been happening. Now we're getting down to what conservatives and libertarians have long meant, in realspeak, by smaller, limited government.
It means government similar to the one the U.S. had in 1890. There was no federal income tax, and the concept of busting trusts was in its infancy. A startlingly small number of people held about half of the wealth in the country. U.S. senators were not directly elected, but rather were chosen by state legislatures. (Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry apparently would like to see us go back to doing that.) In the Senate, it was common for the lawmakers to be referred to as "a silver senator" or "a textile senator." They were put there to represent very specific financial interests.
And about half of America's elderly lived in poverty, according to the contemporary definition. That compares with about 10 percent today.
In short, "limited government" means a plutocracy in which the limitations are one-dimensional. It's OK to dole out vast land grants to railroad companies to lay cross-continental tracks. It's not OK to do anything to help old, sick and/or poor people. In the spirit of social Darwinism, those people are supposed to just die off and leave the world to "the strong."
The appeal to selfishness
I turned 55 this year, so I'm in sort of a gray area regarding the U.S. welfare state, or what's left of it. I'm at least a decade away from qualifying for any "entitlements," but they are definitely not an abstraction to me now. They are within sight.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, put forth a plan this year that pretty much telegraphed the punch that's coming. For people my age and older, there's not that much to worry about -- Social Security and Medicare will be there for people our age, albeit with some "strategic" trims here and there.
Anybody out there in America who's much younger than me, have your Vaseline handy. You're going to get it, and you should know where.
Clearly, the right-wing's strategy is to assure older people, usually the biggest Republican voting bloc, that the "entitlements" will be there for them. What they are moving us toward is a sort of "phase-out" of America's already-meager welfare state. I'm actually glad now that my wife and I decided not to have kids -- I would hate to have left young people behind to deal with the future that U.S. right-wingers obviously have in mind for them.
When one is in one's twenties, retirement is so far off that it is an abstraction. Besides, at that age, many people about halfway expect to one day make that "big score" that will put them far ahead in the game. Not that many twentysomethings expect what usually happens -- that one will have to work so hard just to be middle-class, and just to stay there as one ages.
Having grown up relatively poor, with parents who were young during the Great Depression, I never took very much for granted. But some Americans, including many my age and older, have always taken just about everything for granted.
And when the day comes when Americans are no longer "entitled" to "entitlements," guess who's going to get thrown under the bus? It won't be the older folks.
Where are the hellraisers?
I was just a kid during the Sixties, but I remember the era quite well enough that I felt a sense of having missed a lot while I was in college in the 1970s. By the time Gerald Ford was president and the Vietnam War was over, there was a lot less to raise hell about. We had to look for things, like maybe legalizing pot or establishing co-ed dorms, to stir shit about.
It seems to me that the young have their own nasty Vietnam going on right here, right now -- and they don't seem to be, as a generation, doing much about it. It's pretty standard that when reporters interview younger people about their financial future, they will say that they expect to work until they are 70 or 80. Retirement, to them, is becoming an obsolete concept.
I would warn those now 25 about what things are going to be like when you are 55. You don't sleep as soundly. Odd aches and pains start to emerge. Some days it's hard to gather the self-discipline to make it to that middle-class job that, you realize, is what stands between you and homelessness.
At 55, retirement starts to sound awfully good, and it will to you, too, twentysomethings. And in 30 years, when you're in my shoes, and I'm gumming Jello in a nursing home if I'm even still alive, retirement will definitely not be an abstraction for you. And the Paul Ryans, the people you're not taking much action to stop right now, have a much grimmer future in store for you.
My advice is to get out on the streets and raise some holy hell now, while you've got the energy. For your own future, it's imperative now for you to put the fear of God and organized labor into the likes of Mr. Ryan.
Twentysomethings, this is your crucial time, and you won't be able to depend on many Florida retirees to fight any battles for you. Either fight for control of the bus, or be thrown under it.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.