The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

INCUMBENTS AND MASOCHISM

I have a simple philosophy when it comes time to vote.  I look at the candidates in each race, irrespective of their party affiliation.  If one of those happens already to hold the office and is seeking re-election, I look at their record during the time they have served.  And it all comes down to one simple question.

“Did you Mr. or Ms. Whatever do anything that was productive during the time that we paid your salary that would justify your retention in your current position?”

Normally, but not always, the answer I come up with is a resounding, “No.”  And as a result of that, I seldom will vote for a person who is an incumbent office holder.  That is true on a local, county, state and national level.  This also, I must admit, is why over my entire voting career I have probably helped only about twenty percent or so of those who have gotten my support elected.

You see, incumbency is a tremendous advantage.  You have only to look at the  Presidential race to realize that the incumbent, with arguably the worst track record in American history is currently marginally favored to win re-election.  Either that speaks to his “charisma” or to the fact that Americans, as a nation, are essentially masochistic.

Perhaps you have heard the old expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  I can think of no better example of that than within the political sphere.  Let’s look at one example – your retirement benefits and those which they who “serve” you in Congress enjoy.

As you may be aware, for its first time since being founded by FDR, Social Security is actually in a deficit position.  That is simply because of the shenanigans that those who serve us on Capitol Hill have been playing with income to the fund by offering us a “tax holiday” on these necessary contributions in an effort to stimulate the economy.  In other words, they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, with the hope that things will get back to “normal” once the economy really starts pumping.

That would probably not be a bad thing if the economy were starting to pump along at this point after the recession hit us as has been the case in previous recoveries.  Whether you want to attribute the fact that we are running at only a sluggish 1.2% improvement in GDP to all the nonsense that has emanated from Washington, or you choose to blame it on President Bush, it really doesn’t matter.  We have the numbers and they’re putrid.

But, for the purposes of optimism let’s assume that things eventually get back on track and that Social Security is once again solvent – and will be a reliable source of income for your personal retirement.  For some reason, I’m always optimistic early in the morning which is when I’m writing this.

So you’re a typical wage earner.  You have a good, secure position and your FICA contribution comes out of your weekly paycheck as it has when you joined the work force at age 18, a fresh High School graduate.  You’re willing to accept the fact that changes in health and longevity will require that you work longer than your parents in order to collect your Social Security benefits.  After all, it’s likely that you will live longer than they did.  So let’s say that our lawmakers, after looking at all the actuarial studies and the economic forecasts decide to raise the minimum retirement age to receive a reduced benefit from the current age of 62 to 65.  That means that you will have to work for 47 years to collect your Social Security benefit.  You’re okay with that.

The median amount of benefits that a current Social Security recipient receives is about $1,100 per month.  That’s what you (adjusted for inflation) will receive for the monies that you, and the equal contribution that your employer, paid into the fund during your 47 years of labor.  That’s what you will have to live on – together with any savings you have set aside.

Now let’s review the retirement plan for Members of Congress.  Not too long ago they decided to be egalitarian and include their own income as being subject to FICA – but that is a relatively recent development.

The Congressional retirement plan, one that every thinking person would like to have, says that if a person serves for a twenty year period, they are then eligible to receive a retirement benefit irrespective of their age.  So in essence, a bright young star who was elected to Congress at the Constitutionally approved minimum age of 25 would be eligible for retirement at age 45.

What benefit would he receive?  If I told you that he could expect about $85,000 per year, you might be shocked.  You might even be angered as you compared this to your $13,200 benefit and that he had only to put in 20 years of service to receive this benefit compared to your 47 years of hard work and labor.

And you should be shocked.  We should all be shocked – and outraged.  The obvious inequity is the reason that retiring Member of Congress Ron Paul has refused to participate in this program, describing it as, “immoral”.

Which leads me back to my original reason for voting against incumbents.  You see, it is obvious that most of them do what is in their interest, this pension scam being a perfect example, and forego doing what is in the people’s interests.  In the absence of any sense of virtue and righteousness on their part to do the just and fair thing, the only solution I see is not to allow them to stay in office long enough to obtain the benefits which they are only too wiling to heap on themselves.

There’s an old joke which comes to mind.  It goes, “Do you know the difference between a masochist and a sadist?”  The answer is, “A masochist says, ‘Beat me, beat me’.  And the sadist says, ‘No.’”

I’m afraid that when it comes to describing many of our incumbents in office they give a slightly different answer.

They ask, “How hard?”

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