As the silly season of presidential politicking reaches its fever-pitch, my tolerance is being tested. Robo-calls, television ads and Facebook posts combine half-truths and mean-spirited disinformation to drive support in what seems to me to be a very, very expensive high-school popularity contest. Yet, the election is soon upon us, and I need to cast my vote.
It’s interesting to me to see how my political leanings continue to evolve.
Growing up in Hawaii during the 70’s, I didn’t give a lot of thought to politics. Pictures of Henry Kissinger during the Paris Peace Talks and footage of American POW’s returning to Hickam Air Force Base remain indelibly etched on my brain.
The first election I remember voting was in 1980, my senior year at the Naval Academy. I was surrounded by men and women in uniform; including many of those POW’s who then were serving in leadership positions. To say I “leaned to the right” politically may be an understatement. I once posted a sign on the cork bulletin board in my room in Bancroft Hall that read, “Talk American – or Don’t Talk At All!” I was shocked when my Plebe Summer roommate, Guy Williams, didn’t agree that this was perhaps the most awesome piece of wisdom ever scribed. Nonetheless, once the election time rolled around, it was Reagan and his call for a ‘600 Ship Navy’ that made that all the sense in the world to me.
As the changes brought about by the crumbling of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall, life changes at home began to change me. Marriage changed me. Combat changed me. Fatherhood changed me. Sobriety changed me. Cancer changed me. Cancer disappearing changed me. My mother’s death changed me. Failure changed me. Success changed me. Life keeps happening; I keep changing.
Subsequently, I find myself far less willing to reflexively jump on the bandwagon that has evolved from my historical Republican roots. In 1989 I began making my way in the private sector and would soon be seduced by Mr. Perot with the fear of “that sucking sound of jobs leaving America”. In mid 90’s, the joy of surviving cancer made the term “pre-existing condition” synonymous with being stuck, impotent and left inadequate to provide for my family’s future healthcare.
I voted for Obama in 2008. It may have been the first time I had ever voted for a Democrat. I totally bought in to that “hopey-changey” thing. Having also grown up in poly cultural Hawaii (my neighbor Betsy Esser dated ‘Barry’ Obama in 8th grade. Yes – that Barry Obama), I wanted to believe he was the next JFK. At a time when my business was so horrifically down and my college-graduated kids were desperately looking for jobs. I “hoped” he could bring “change”, and become a builder and a healer.
Conversely, I know there are many who are convinced that had Sarah Palin been allowed to leave her Alaskan guard shack, we would have averted the financial crisis that continues to plague our country in the form of unacceptable high levels of unemployment, gas prices and national debt. I don’t know about that; I’m not young enough to be that smart anymore.
If you ask me if I am better off than I was four years ago?
1) My kids are healthy, in love, and employed (with benefits!)
2) I have less personal debt and have health insurance
3) My golf handicap has gone from 9 to a 13. (One of the hazards of an improving economy is spending too much time working and too little time on the golf course!)
Yet, the national debt crisis bothers me. No matter whom you choose to blame looking backward, looking forward – I feel economically screwed. My kids are screwed. Any grandchildren I might have may be screwed. Forget the political rhetoric, higher taxes are coming, and should be coming. As a country, we have spent so far beyond our means, we need to fix that. Personally, I feel compelled to look at my own life and the impact taxes have had. I need to make my own accounting of “what do I get for the taxes I pay”.
Let me start at the beginning. My father received a government-funded education, and raised our family serving under his government-funded career. For the last 60 years, since 1952, he continues to receive benefits from government-funded healthcare and pension*. My siblings and I were born under a government healthcare system, and when we lived overseas, we attended government-funded schools. I followed in my father’s footsteps and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served on active duty for eight years. My children were born under a government healthcare program. Simply put, for the first 30 years of my life I lived under the protective umbrella of the United States Government. Along the way I had 4 knee surgeries, corrective orthopedic surgery, a 42 day inpatient rehabilitation program, and countless visits to the emergency room (including the time in eighth grade when an un-popped kernel of corn became lodged in my right ear canal. This event single-handedly cut short any contemplations I had for a career in ‘Magic’).
Since 1990, I have worked in the industrial real estate business. It has predominantly been 100% commission (i.e. I eat what I kill). Trust me; it very is easy to get sucked into the delusion of capitalistic self-sufficiency. When I look at the facts, however, the primary driver of my business success is based on government regulated trucks travelling on government-funded highways. If we eat it, drink it, or wear it, it probably rode on a truck and will probably remain that way until some smart kid invents the modem that can download peanut butter, hot pizza and Prada shoes on demand.
Two of the “salaried” jobs I’ve held resulted in me being “downsized”. It is not nearly as humbling to write that today as it was the first time I stood in line to apply for unemployment benefits. While I had some savings, my family appreciated that government check much more than my ego did not.
My point is this: I am part of the American population that has relied on U.S. government-run programs for most of my life: Healthcare, education, and social programs. I want to be clear, I don’t feel like I’m a victim; I feel grateful: Very Grateful.
When I honestly look at what I have received in exchange for the tax dollars I’ve contributed so far, and increased taxes I will most likely be paying, I am still WAY ahead of the game. In fact, it doesn’t matter how much more in taxes I might have to pay; I have a pretty damn good deal. I agree with Leigh’s Grandma Williams who emigrated from Wales in the 1920’s. She often said, “Taxes are a privilege of living in the United States”. Period.
I haven’t decided who I’m voting for. Although I despise the fear-based political rancor that abounds from our two-party system, and don’t always like my choices, I do always vote. It is not only my civic duty; it is a personal way I can honor the friends and classmates who died in the line of duty defending the Constitution of the United States. It seems so easy to forget how much more others have sacrificed for the privileges we continue to enjoy.
I don’t know what “percentage” this puts me in, but you can mark me down as a very grateful, indentured servant.
I hope you vote.
*My father. Captain Michael A. McBride, USN (Retired) graduated from the Naval Academy in 1956 and served on active duty for 29 years, including command of the nuclear powered submarine, USS Sargo (SSN-583).