Monday, March 14, 2011

War on Age

Among the many targets of the Rabid Right in Washington and the state governments they control--and those targets include children, women, the poor, the sick, the arts, public transportation, public anything, various ethnicities and religions, the non-wealthy in general--is the fact of aging.

For many years, to be old in America almost always meant to be poor, but certainly to be helpless. Then over the past 60 years or so, that prospect of poverty and suffering with untreated ill health was addressed by public programs like Social Security and Medicare, and by retirement funds, often set up as the result of collective bargaining by labor unions. In all these cases, people contributed part of their earnings when young for their needs when they were old and unable to earn at their prior level, either because of incapacities or because they weren't considered suited for the work anymore.

Now all of that is suddenly and violently under very serious attack. Republicans are engaged in busting unions in many states, specifically to get at the pensions of working people. In Washington, Republicans are attacking Social Security and Medicare. They are doing so in both cases by slandering those who paid for them and might benefit from them. Public employees, who by contract agreement earn less than they would in the private sector in exchange for better pensions, are vilified as greedy. (These people include those who do difficult work that no one can do without, like teaching children, taking care of the sick and fighting fires.) Those who have contributed part of their life's earnings to Social Security and Medicare are characterized as selfish and lazy freeloaders.

The latest such attack came from a former U.S. Senator from PA, Rick Sanctimonious. He told a Rabid Right audience that entitlements take away people's initiative, and makes them passive and dependent.

This pernicious point of view is possible only if you believe that people can choose not to get old. Though I work at being healthy, and I hope to keep my wits about me as long as possible, I find it beyond my ability--even with a hell of a lot of initiative--to prevent myself from getting older.

People are helpless against the helplessness that happens, gradually or suddenly, as they age. Social Security, Medicare and retirement funds are insurance to deal with the effects as much as possible. I believe punishing the helpless is generally considered to be cruel. Taking away insurance already paid for as contracts stipulate, is theft on top of it. Try as they might--by taking away these earned benefits from the non-rich to further enrich their wealthy masters, by setting the besieged young against some obscene caricature of their elders, or one set of workers against another-- Rick Sanctimonious and his ilk are not going to win their war on age. Age happens. It's not something that gives me endless delight. But it's something we must face. We really don't need further insults and injuries on top of it. These people are shameful.