This occurred to me the other day when my wife and I were having one of those “kitchen table talks” about finances. I have always taken a kind of foolish pride in telling myself that I was casting my ballot for what I felt was best for the whole country, and not just what was best for myself personally, at least in the short term.
I never really talked about it much because even I am not so oblivious that I didn’t understand that not much could be more annoying than someone sanctimoniously explaining that his vote is based on principle, not some selfish need like lesser citizens.
And the truth is that at least in 1992 and 1996 my vote was definitely in my self-interest, both in the short term and the long term. It’s just that I was young enough then that I didn’t really consider my vote to be that consequential to my immediate well-being, and it wasn’t the criteria I used. Like many Americans I looked at the candidates, looked at their plans, and voted for what I thought was best for the country, and figured that would benefit me indirectly as well.
In the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2008 I could legitimately make a case that I was voting against my immediate self-interest. Of course long-term self-interest is a different story, and being a Democrat I believe that it is in all Americans’ long-term interest to vote for a more progressive candidate, so it’s not like my votes were some sort of sacrifice or anything. But in my thirties retirement seemed far enough away that my votes for Democratic candidates were based on principle, principally.
This year is different. Suddenly retirement doesn’t seem that far off. My wife’s and my retirement planning consists of basically four things: we’ve been maxing out on 401k contributions for a number of years and will continue to do so; our home will be paid off when I retire, allowing us to live here with only property taxes to pay; Social Security; Medicare.
If Mitt Romney wins, I fully expect that Medicare will eventually be turned into a voucher program; that’s what Paul Ryan repeatedly proposed in Congress and I believe that’s what the majority of the Republican caucus wants to do. Instead of guaranteed benefits and coverage, we’ll be forced to try to find insurance on the private market, while suffering from the pre-existing condition of being old.
If Mitt Romney wins, I fully expect that Social Security will eventually be privatized (or “personalized”); that’s what Paul Ryan repeatedly proposed in Congress. Instead of a guaranteed monthly lifetime benefit, we’ll be spending our retirement trying to manage another shrinking personal account in addition to our 401k.
I’ve been paying into Social Security and Medicare for 27 years. I would really like them to exist when I retire. Republicans and conservatives will counter that their drastic actions are necessary to “save” the programs. I’m sorry, but you cannot “save” Medicare by turning it into Vouchercare. You save Medicare by saving Medicare. You cannot “save” Social Security by turning it into another 401k program. That’s not what Social Security is. There’s nothing wrong with a 401k; but it’s not a guarantee.
The biggest lie that conservatives have been able to successfully push into our national consciousness is that we cannot afford these programs. Even a lot of Democrats will talk about “tough choices” and “sacrifices” that must be made in regards to what they call “entitlements,” rather than the “earned benefits” that they actually are. We spend more on Defense than the next ten countries combined. We are the richest nation on the planet. We can afford these programs; they can be paid for. It requires political will, not rocket surgery.
It doesn’t end there. Recently we had a scare in our family when my younger son’s pediatrician ordered some tests for what would have been a very serious illness. Everything is fine, but if they hadn’t been, we would have been in a situation where we would have very easily maxed out the lifetime caps on coverage that insurance companies used to impose before the president signed Obamacare. If Mitt Romney wins and fulfills his promise to repeal Obamacare on day one, those lifetime caps will be back. Some families like mine, who have had insurance and have paid all their premiums, will be hit with tragic illnesses and will go bankrupt trying to pay for treatment after their insurance companies are allowed to stop paying for treatment. That will happen.
I’m not sure if having a personal stake in the outcome of this election makes my vote less principled or not; I don’t really care, frankly. Either way, for reasons of principle and for reasons of practical and tangible benefits, I am enthusiastically supporting the re-election of President Barack Obama.