Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 624 “We are here to help.”

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Today I want to give some thought to that famous or infamous statement, “I'm from the government and I'm here to help ”.

The day before Mother’s Day; five-thirty in the afternoon and our doorbell rang. It was our mail carrier, Eddie. He had a package in his hands. “I thought you might want this before tomorrow,” he said.  “I got done with my route and was all the way downtown and then I found this in one of the bins - hiding. I thought; “Brenda’s going to be so disappointed tomorrow if she doesn’t get this that I had better go back.” His route was done. His day was done. His week was done. He turned around and brought her the expected mother’s day gift. He’s a government worker. And he helps us.

Most of us retired people know that the government helps us every day. We get our social security checks monthly and we carry a Medicare card everywhere we go. I’m trying to think of what life would be like without either one.  I envision a life that doesn’t look nearly as good as the one we have. We retired folks are not children. We know that none of us are so independent we don’t need help now and then. We can admit to this. In days gone by older folks could depend on their children who lived all around them. But in this day and age, the children are living from coast to coast. Education and jobs demand mobility. The extended family has fragmented and we take long plane rides to see our grandchildren.

The reason this is on my mind is because of an oft heard assumption concerning the government and its relationship to each and every one of us. There is a common assumption about government being a help to citizens and it is all negative. Remember Ronald Reagan’s famous words:

                    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Many people accepted it as true. And we have been paying the price ever since.

My father-in-law died a few years ago at age 86. He considered himself a ‘Roosevelt Democrat”. He had lived through the depression on a farm in Iowa. He always believed that the government had indeed helped him and every working man in America. He believed that the government had come to the rescue of the common man with public works programs and social security. He always said that he didn’t know what corporations had ever done for him. Their goal was always the same – profits. If they ever helped the common man it was spin off as they searched for ways to maximize profits.

My experience has been similar. As a teacher, and government employee, I tried to help students. Other teachers I knew did the same. The budgets were always tight. Money was not wasted and the taxpayer always got more than what they were paying for. I’m sure some teachers worked harder than others. I’m sure some were better at their profession than others. But these government workers did come to work and they did try to help.

Just two nights ago I attended a county council meeting that was filled to overflowing with citizens. It looked like a long meeting. The parks director was there because of three issues on the agenda. I took one look at the crowd and decided I would go home and enjoy the evening. The following day I called the parks director’s office at 9 in the morning. He was at his desk. He had gotten home from the previous nights meeting at 11:45. That’s a long day. I have been on several community committees involved in parks and recreation at the city and county level; all staffed by government workers. I have never seen money wasted. I have never seen people who did not try to help. I'm always amazed at the level of care, effort and good intentions that individuals have extended.

I’m sure there are examples of when the government came and didn’t help; Katrina is a case in point. Invading Iraq or torturing prisoners might be two others. I can think of many things our government is doing right now that I don’t believe help me. But for every single example of places where I think government goes wrong I can think of many where government does indeed, help. Just pause and imagine us without a government. Brute strength would decide all issues. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to enjoy that. Not at my age.

We need government alright. It is just a matter of what kind of government. It can help. Reagan’s words turn the truth on its head. In fact, the most terrifying words we could hear would be: “There is no government. You’re on your own.”

This is Retirement Talk.





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