President Barack Obama lost a vote the hard way this past week. My Uncle Paul died. It might not have been Obama’s vote to lose if my uncle had just lived a few days longer — long enough to see Obama turn his back on Social Security.
I have to admit I’ve been a little busy this week, what with all the chaos that accompanies losing someone you love. And my uncle was the perfect guy. I kid you not. There was a little something for everybody in that guy.
Paul Judge was the child of Irish immigrants and my mom’s younger brother. He served on the USS Midway as an enlisted seaman, went on to Boston College undergrad and then to Harvard grad school. Paul loved his country, believed in her vigilant defense and once educated, went to work at the Pentagon. After his retirement he settled into the life he’d built for himself as a world class-husband, father, grandfather and, you guessed it, uncle.
And Paul Judge was politically engaged. He had strong opinions about equal rights for all regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. He believed that a government that was strong enough to protect the free world was only worthwhile if it protected folks back home. He believed that social welfare programs were worth paying for because the children of the poor needed education and opportunity to rise out of poverty much the way he himself had.
Lastly, Paul liked people. He would especially have liked a gentleman who lives on the fourth floor of the shelter where I work. Tall and skinny, the man I’ll call Edgar went to work at a scrapyard the year he quit school to help provide for his family. Edgar was 15; it was 1955.
I asked Edgar to come to my office — I work in a homeless shelter that provides emergency, transitional and permanent housing — so that I could ask him a few questions about his life. He lives in our permanent housing program which caters mostly to very poor elderly folks in the area. While we house a number of families, the vast majority of our permanent residents are older folks who worked all their lives but whose benefits aren’t enough to provide decent housing.
Edgar can’t remember not working. He does remember his favorite job. When he was about 24 he got a job working for U.S. Steel in Kansas City, Mo. It was a union job and the pay was the best he can ever remember getting. Eventually the plant was closed and with his limited education he never had a job that good again.
Now at age 71, Edgar receives a Social Security check each month for $573 and $200 a month in food stamps. His Medicare benefit allows him to get many of his prescription drugs for a low co-pay of about $3 per scrip and because of the generosity of folks in the area he can live here at our shelter for about $180 a month. The going rate for a one-room efficiency not connected to our homeless shelter is $500 a month: an amount he could never afford.
Perhaps now you can understand why a man who spent his entire life working, serving his country, paying his taxes and being a vital part of our national defense might have walked away from a president who has suddenly turned his back on a man who likewise spent the last 55 years struggling to do the thankless menial tasks that keep our nation running. Uncle Paul would never have approved of President Obama bailing on Edgar.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in his article “Hands off Social Security,” summed up the frustration so many on the Left feel with President Obama’s abandonment of his ideals: “Let us be clear, Social Security has not contributed one nickel to our deficit or our national debt … I am especially disturbed that President Obama is considering cuts in Social Security after he campaigned against cuts in 2008.”
President Obama has forgotten who got him elected in 2008 — people like Uncle Paul. And while there’s no winning Paul’s vote back, by being untrue to his word he’s losing the rest of our votes the old-fashioned way.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.