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An American dream

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image Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-03) isn’t among those who are in the pockets of big business. He is pictured here listening to the thoughts of one of his younger constituents. Mitch Traphagen Photo

Most of us could literally and figuratively stick our fingers in our ears and say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!” In theory, previous generations could have done that as well, but they probably would have starved to death.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Is it just me or is the world going insane?  When I first thought about this column, I thought I had someone to blame for our woes:  my own generation, the Baby Boomers. After all, we were the first generation with the luxury to mostly ignore any reality that we didn’t like. Most of us could literally and figuratively stick our fingers in our ears and say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!” In theory, previous generations could have done that as well, but they probably would have starved to death, back then you lived in reality or you would die.

I think of Ed Socha, a retired Navy Commander and Pearl Harbor survivor who, when he first struck out as a very young man to find work, found it in the employ of a farmer for mere pennies per day. The deal, however, included lodging — he slept on the farmer’s porch. I can’t imagine anyone of my generation being willing to do that.

I think of Congressman Leonard Boswell. As a young man, he took any job he could find, from working in an oil field to driving a truck, before making a career for himself in the Army. I’m certain there are crooks in Congress, but Congressman Boswell serves as an example to me that not all are crooked. During the time I worked for him (and I spent more time with him than I did with my wife), I never saw an under-the-table deal, I never saw him sell out America for some conspiracy-laden United Nations agenda, I never even heard him utter a lie. On the contrary, he put his life on the line for America as an attack helicopter pilot during two tours in Vietnam and he isn’t about to change course now. He is still all for America, and that fact does not change whether people or other politicians agree with him or not.  But, of course, he also doesn’t claim to have a magic wand, or know all of the answers.

With a big election bearing down on us, it seems a lot of people, Boomers included, are still doing the “stick the fingers in their ears” thing and ignoring pretty much everything that doesn’t fit their paradigm. Reality be damned. From my perspective, that attitude, which is displayed by people on both sides of the political aisle, will not make for a happy election. No matter who wins, the winner will be hated by half the country. Neither side has all of the answers, but you certainly wouldn’t know that by listening to the campaign ads or a good number of their supporters, who can’t seem to say nice things about “their guy” because they are too busy spewing hatred with a religious fervor about the “other guy”.

Major Ron Hartley of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office set me straight on the blame thing. It’s not just the Boomers that are the problem.

“No, Baby Boomers have to work,” he said. “They get jobs, go to work, and go home again.” In other words, Boomers have to live in reality.

Ron Hartley is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I think he tries to hide what I am certain is a stratospheric IQ speaking plainly with a soft, unassuming Southern tone. But he misses nothing, and in this case, I’m certain he is right.

I took my first job at 13 and, with the exception of a few months here and there for sailing excursions, I have worked ever since. I don’t expect something for nothing. I know, and all of my Boomer friends know, that if you want something, you have to work for it. No doubt, I had it far easier than Ed Socha and Leonard Boswell, but the responsibility to myself was the same. Most of us grew up well fed but poor in comparison to today’s expected level of wealth. There weren’t tons of rich people back in the 1950s and 1960s, few families had multiple cars, and I didn’t know anyone with more than one television set. We were comfortably “poor” and if we wanted something, we had to earn it. Growing up, our sense of entitlement was restricted to regular meals and a roof over our heads. Today, a growing number of people truly seem to believe they are entitled to that, plus an iPhone and a bunch of other stuff.

I believe the government has to achieve a difficult balance today. It must provide a safety net for the relatively small percentage of people who are temporarily down on their luck, it must not get in the way of business, and it has a responsibility to protect its citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic. It would be very difficult for any individual to stand up to an enormous corporation that has done them wrong. I don’t buy into the “blame corporations” game, their mission is to make money by any legal means possible. But that means corporations also need to abide by some rules so that in carrying out that mission, they do not become a domestic enemy. I believe that for both Americans and American corporations, America should always be first. For citizens, that concept is in our hearts and souls. Corporations, however, don’t have human qualities and, thus, they need some incentive to operate humanely. Government can provide both the rules and the incentives.

It seems fewer people are putting America first these days. Candidates state that they have solutions to problems ranging from the price of gas to health care. But when they lose the horse race, they disappear and take their “solutions” with them. If they were really putting America first, why wouldn’t they share their answers for the benefit of all?  Maybe the answers are simply too difficult for any one person to have.

I’m afraid this election is going to be ugly, and I’m also afraid the ugliness won’t end after Nov. 6. My dream would be that President and Michelle Obama would invite Mitt and Ann Romney to the White House, perhaps for a sleepover. They would hang out, talk late into the night and try to figure out what they can do together to help America live up to her enormous potential. And then they would agree that all further campaigning will be uplifting, based on their own ideas and on what they can do for America rather than spewing often deceptive negativity about what the other guy has done, or will do.

Yeah, I know. But I can dream. America was built on dreamers.

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