Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No Social Security For Me

This isn't really news to anyone in my generation, but now I know for sure that I won't ever get social security. Bill Ratliff told me.

Today I attended a surprisingly awesome conference. It was entitled Ethics in Government but, really, it was about much more than that. Every speaker was exciting and gave me tons to think about - as a matter of fact, I even came away with some plans to talk to my kids about ethics at the dinner table tomorrow night.

Former Lieutenant Governor Ratliff had an hour to speak, but he only chose to speak for about 20 or 30 minutes and left the rest of the time for questions/conversation. It took me a while to figure out how to phrase my question and I must admit that once I spoke up - I rambled much more than I'd hoped...especially in front of such a prestigious political figure.

I asked (in my own particular, stumbling way) for his opinion about the fact that we seem to hold politicians up to high standards of morality and put them on pedestals to such an extent that important issues such as the fact that social security will run out of money in eight years (which he'd mentioned himself as a critical emergency that no one in Washington would even discuss) are left completely out of the picture. I said it took me a while to figure out how to phrase the question without making it sound like I don't think ethics matters (I do) or without making it sound like I don't think fidelity in marriage matters (I do) - but those issues seem like such a distraction from what really needs to get done in this country. And isn't it possible that someone would actually be MORE ethical if he was allowed to just be human, and not be expected to be a god?

Or something like that. You see .... I do ramble on at times.

To his credit, Lieutenant Governor Ratliff really seemed to ponder it for a minute and thought hard. He said that it's clearly much easier for a politician to give a quick soundbite about the moral issues he knows his constituents care about than it is for him to talk about problems that don't have solutions - or at least don't have easy solutions. He then looked up at me, acknowledged that my reference to social security was exactly such a problem politicians want to avoid and then he said something along the lines of: "I can tell just by looking at you that you don't have a chance of ever seeing a dime of social security." I laughed, agreed and told him that I was putting as much as I could into my 401k.

Then he said that he knew he hadn't answered my question and apologized. I told him I supposed that the only real answer was for the constituency to demand that politicians face the real issues and not get sidetracked with figuring out who is holier. He said that's what it has to come down to and he hopes to see it in his lifetime.

I hope it happens that quickly. It took some guts for me to ask him a question in a room full of people and it took even more for me to take a position which could be mis-interpreted as supporting immoral actions. But I'm very glad I did and I feel honored to have had a conversation, even if it was just for a few moments. The best part of the whole experience is that it took me out of my Gen-X cynicism, at least for a little bit.

If I hide my head in the sand, then the folks who prefer pedestal politicians (you know, the ones who are having tons of affairs and taking bribes while singing hymns) are going to win.

I might be screwed out of social security for good. But if we can start paying attention to the real issues, maybe we can fix a few things by the time my own children retire.

Of course, I'm still not sure exactly what to do about it. The idea of really getting politically involved exhausts me. Seriously - it just makes me want to curl up into a ball and sleep.

And that's when I become Scarlett again. "I'll think about that tomorrow."

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