By Bob Confer
Niagara Gazette — Everything is on the table when it comes to the fiscal cliff. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are talking about significant cuts to Medicare. Such talk has been a long time coming. This poorly thought-out and completely unconstitutional program costs taxpayers $555 billion per year and holds nearly $39 trillion in unfunded liabilities. 15 percent of the federal budget is dedicated to health care for seniors.
Right now many of you think I’m heartless — you think I love money and the Constitution more than I do our elders. It’s no wonder that when I talk about cutting Medicare I am met with an incredulous, “who will take care of the seniors?!”
My response is simply this: Who took care of seniors before Medicare was introduced in 1965 (which really wasn’t that long ago)? The answer: Themselves, charity and their families.
You see, that makes my love and respect for seniors different than yours. You see their wellbeing as the responsibility of the collective (government). I see it as being the responsibility of the individual. That’s a more powerful and meaningful love than that which comes from a federal bureaucracy.
Let’s focus on the last of the three support systems for senior citizens, since it’s the most important one of them all — family. It used to be that family — and the love, strength, and support that came from it – meant something. “The Waltons” weren’t just some fanciful fictional creation from the mind of Earl Hammer. They reflected what he felt and saw growing up in rural Virginia during the Great Depression. The Waltons in all their extended-family glory (where Grandma and Grandpa lived with or very near their children and grandchildren) represented the typical American family for a good portion of the last century. In 1900, 57 percent of all adults aged 65 or older lived with their descendants.
But, things changed significantly in the mid-to-late 1900s. Rather than living within their means and the means of their families all the while contributing to the emotional and intellectual development of the extended household, seniors instead distanced themselves from their families, and their families from them. Grandpa was no longer living with John and Olivia while helping to raise John-Boy and his siblings. Instead, Modern Grandpa kept to himself and struggled to pay the bills in his lifelong home. Maybe he “downsized” or opted for life in a retirement community, miles away — and sometimes states away — from his kin. By 1990, less than 17 percent of seniors lived with their young – a 72 percent drop!
This development— the dismantling of the extended family — was encouraged by the benevolence of the federal government. The oldsters became independent because they became wards of the state (which is totally oxymoronic). First, FDR’s Social Security gave them the entitlement of old age income. Then, LBJ’s Medicare supplemented this social welfare. With both, they no longer needed the family to survive, and the family believed they didn’t need to take care of the grandparents.
It’s no coincidence that, over that same time period, the nuclear family changed as well— divorces and/or single parent homes abound and it seems like two-parent or original-parent households are now an abnormality. Could it be because the elders and their important and varied life lessons — especially those of love, respect and maturity that could have done wonders for young married couples — are no longer in the same home? Now that emotional support is only intermittently found through the telephone or emails rather than person-to-person, day-to-day. And, during those relatively rare times when young adults do interact with their parents, do you really think they want to burden them with the woes of their relationships, or the struggles of raising the little ones?
What I’m getting at is this: We as Americans should never have gotten into this jam where we think grandparents need government.
Grandparents need their families and families need their grandparents.
And, America needs them all. Call me old-fashioned, but the family unit — founded on love and support — is the basic building block of our nation; strong and just families that are mature and respectable will create a country that is the very same. Too many broken and weak families create a country of similar ill temperament.Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.