Tea Party Sparks Fear in Americans

By Sam Uretsky

Mignon McLaughlin once wrote, “A man becomes a conservative as soon as he has something to conserve.” This explains why people who were idealists in youth start getting grumpy about the same time their first issue of AARP magazine arrives in the mail.

Some people are born to a life of legacy admissions and Republican fundraisers, but the vast majority have to work a lifetime to accumulate anything, and, in this economy, all they may accumulate is the right to a social program designed to help the elderly.

Now, thanks to a well organized propaganda campaign, many people who should know better, are endorsing the wrong economic policies and helping create the conditions that they fear the most.

When the first disgruntled senior shouted “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” it was taken as an indication that the speaker didn’t understand that Medicare is a government program, but it takes on a different meaning if you emphasize the MY.

Suddenly, the phrase is something from Orwell’s 1984, a cry of “do it to Julia.” Alternately, it’s the cry of Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”: “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.” A July 2010 poll of people between the ages of 44 and 75 reported that while 39% are afraid of death, 61% are afraid of outliving their retirement savings.

It’s not unreasonable that many of these people are afraid of any change in government social programs for the elderly. The first members of the Tea Party weren’t concerned with deficits or government takeover of health care – it was fear that they would have to share with people who, by virtue of their youth, were undeserving. The Baby Boomers grew up in a period of technologic advances and consumerism unlike anything the world had seen before. It was a period that made promises, starting with the Buck Rodgers styling of the 1957 Plymouth and working its way through hi-fi to wi-fi.

These are people who grew up in a world of portents and wonders, but it never really worked the way it should have, and when Bank of America wanted to survey the opinions of people who were well off, they queried those born from 1946 through 1964 who had investable assets of $250,000.

These same responders said they wanted to travel and learn new things during a retirement that might last for decades. With interest rates near zero, and the possibility of a long retirement, $250,000 is both more than many people have saved, and far less than would be needed for a retirement of leisure and education.

The contrast between the Boomers’ aspirations and resources could well lead to concern about out-living the money, and this fear is the milk and meat of Republican electoral politics.

The melt-down of the banking system and the great recession caused another kind of justifiable fear, but instead of leading to more regulation and greater protections it’s being used to justify cuts to every social program going down to health care for children and pregnant women. This isn the kind of fear response an injured dog displays when he bites the hand that tries to help him, and it’s shameful.

We’re looking at what fear brought us to, and it’s pretty grim, but the truth isn’t all that bad. Social Security is safe and health care financing can be fixed if we follow the right leads.

The deficit is serious but it’s not immediate, and it can be reduced with proper investments to create jobs and grow the economy. The rich and super rich can afford to give up their tax cuts and we can at least stop giving tax cuts to businesses that shift jobs overseas. We can learn basic economics and act according to rational principles. All we really need to do is regain our youth.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@mail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011


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