Last month I received my very first Social Security check from the United States government. At long last, I am officially on the dole.
I’ve already learned one thing: All of those conservative politicians were right when they said government checks discourage hard work. I haven’t felt like doing a darn thing all month. The world owes me a living, after all of these years, and I intend to cash in.
At age 66, I can now draw my full benefit and still continue to work at assorted jobs, so I’m not exactly retiring. Life goes on, at its petty pace.
Of course, it will be a long time, if ever, before I take out as much money from Social Security as I put in. That’s not even counting money that my employers have had to put in on my behalf, or that I had to put in on employees’ behalf, plus all the interest I might have earned if I had been able to keep all that money to myself.
But I don’t care about that, nor about the many thousands of dollars I have spent over decades propping up all of the governments that rule my life. Even though it has been a one-sided arrangement—I have sent the government a lot more money than it has sent me—it has never seemed like a bad price to pay to live in the richest and most powerful country on earth.
The government keeps water running into my house. It picks up the garbage. It gives me parks ranging from Pioneer to Yellowstone National, from fishing accesses to the Smithsonian, and it builds roads so I can drive to those parks. It pays for a military that used to protect me from guys like Vladimir Putin, and it reins in polluters who threaten the food I eat, the air I breathe and the water I drink.
The mail comes six days a week. The government sends me election ballots in the mail. The public library has books I want, or shows me how to find them if it doesn’t. Even the Department of Motor Vehicles, the legendary home of inept government, treated me like I owned the place the last time I was there.
I have never had much need for cops, but the one time I did I needed them badly. They showed up fast, acted professionally and dealt with the situation promptly. All those years I didn’t need them, I figure, I was just paying to make sure they would show up when it counted.
And it hasn’t all been one way. The government paid my way from first grade through high school, fed and clothed me for three years in the Army (not that I was grateful for that), kept me afloat long enough to earn a couple of degrees on the G.I. Bill and supported me with various jobs over the years, mostly teaching but also working in the Texas Capitol. The volunteer fire department I served in got an occasional government grant or surplus equipment from the Forest Service.
All of that has come with a tax bill that ranks near the bottom among the world’s developed nations. Only, Korea, Chile and Mexico have lower tax burdens—and I don’t want to live in any of those places.
I am happy to be in America, and even happier to finally be getting a monthly check back for all of the money I have invested in it. It feels strangely fulfilling to get that money, like finally paying off the mortgage or a student loan. Social Security may be at risk for generations to come, but it seems like a safe bet for me—us old folks still vote, God bless us.
Usually this column is filled with semi-righteous anger over some outrage or another: lying politicians, misspent tax dollars, somebody’s bullet-headed comment. That’s the daily stuffing of journalism, all cranked to a peak during last year’s contentious election.
An unhealthy election obsession now transmogrifies into a daily search for the latest news disaster. I defame the president daily, so much that even I get sick of it, yet there’s no hiding that journalists bear much of the blame for whatever evils he may inflict.
Not in the way he presents the blame, as the dishonest media playing the suckers for a cheap headline. Rather, journalism clears a path for candidates like him with its unending capacity for making the world look like a place where carnage rules the streets, where government is the enemy and where a terrorist lurks around every corner. Journalism didn’t create that world, but journalism helped make it seem credible, even attractive.
Maybe instead of picking on America’s faults, we should have spent more time making the case that America isn’t such a bad place to be, that not every politician is on the take, that not every tax dollar is wasted. Maybe we should have spent more time reminding people that America really is great, not perfect, but a pretty good place to grow old in.
We ought to have opened our eyes, seen the good around us and celebrated what we saw. And it shouldn’t have taken a Social Security check to make us realize that.