I was driving back from Los Angeles and stopped for gas. A man in a yellow t-shirt with an illustration of a rattlesnake and the words, “Don’t Tread on Me,” saw me buying bottled water and commented, “Wish I could still afford that.” He held up two empty plastic thermoses. “Gonna fill up in the men’s room.”

“Tough times?” I asked. He shook his head mournfully. “The wife lost her job last year. Now she can’t look for a new one because she has to take care of her mother. Dementia. They closed her adult-day-care program. Then I got laid off last month. Company lost some government contracts. I have diabetes, but at least I’m keeping my health care coverage for a while.”

“That’s COBRA,” I said. “A government mandate for qualified people who lose their jobs.” He looked puzzled. “A government deal? Hell, Washington’s killing this country. If the government would just keep its nose out of people’s business, you’d see the economy come roaring back. And Washington can start by repealing Obamacare. Why should my taxes pay for healthcare for people who don’t want to work?”

I scratched my head. “But you’re out of a job, and other working Americans are paying their unemployment taxes to help you.” He stared at me. “I paid my share. It’s about time I got some back.” I smiled. “Well, that’s the way it works. We pay taxes, and those taxes come back to us in the form of things like national security, roads, schools and some minimum standard of life in retirement.”

He pointed one of his empty thermoses at me. “Retirement? My 401(k)’s all over the place, and all Washington wants to do is screw free enterprise by regulating the banks. And they never should have bailed the banks out in the first place. Social Security? Obama wants to take it away from the little guy. It’s time we got government out of Social Security. That goes for Medicare, too.”

I edged my bottled water behind my back. “But what if wealthy people get a little less in their Social Security payments? And pay a little more on their Medicare premiums? That would lower spending and help keep Social Security around for the little guy.” He shook his head. “You just want to raise taxes.” I twirled my water bottles in my hands. “Well, for the rich, why not?” I asked. “And how about raising revenues by cutting loopholes? Why should we support the oil companies?” His cheeks turned crimson. “Raise revenues? Not according to Jesus. Just cut taxes and let business create jobs.”

I sighed. “But economists say that tax cuts don’t stimulate the economy. They can hurt it. In 1937, Washington cut its stimulus program and raised taxes after the economy was recovering. So we had a recession for a year then rapid growth after President Roosevelt developed a new stimulus package without lowering taxes.” He pointed his other empty water bottle at me. “I’m a man of principle, and a man of principle sticks to his guns. No matter what. I’d rather bring this country to its knees than ruin it with big-government socialism.” He turned towards the men’s room then whirled around. “And I’ll tell you this. If someone doesn’t start smoothing over some of that bad road along I-5 out here and add another lane, I’m gonna be one very unhappy camper.”

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  1. Carolyn Power on August 19, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Hard times. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Herb Z on August 24, 2011 at 4:55 am

    The message is clear, but the MANY uneducated citizens have much difficulty understanding.

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