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Damned Socialists

April 22, 2010

I was hanging out at a local pub last weekend, enjoying a baseball game, when a fellow observed that the damned Yankees were way overpaid and the damned socialists were taking over his country. He’d been rooting for the other team and I’m not sure how the socialist piece related to the game, but I couldn’t let the moment pass without asking what he had against socialism. I’ll admit it. I was baiting him. What followed was a very passionate ramble about welfare, government meddling and clandestine intellectual elitist groups that were bent on destroying all the liberties we enjoy as Americans.

“Uh oh, I’m gunna get in trouble again,” I thought. So I held back and simply asked, “What’s happening that makes you feel that way?”

“The commie-socialists are taking all our money in taxes and giving it away to big banks, insurance companies, illegal aliens and lazy people who’d rather take handouts than earn an honest living,” he fumed.

“Really,” I said. “What do you do?”

He paused. “What difference does that make?”

In that instant I decided this was not the time to press too hard. “Just interested,” I said softly, “that’s all. You seem really angry about something and I’m not sure what it is.”

He thought for a moment then said, “I’m a contractor. Had my own business but I haven’t had any jobs in a long time. They ruined the economy.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “times are really tough. You got a family?”

“Sure,” he continued without missing a beat. “My wife’s a retired teacher and we got two kids, one’s in college, the other just graduated and she’s livin’ at home.  We worked hard our whole lives and now it’s all fallin’ apart. We’re livin’ off her retirement and social security checks and the taxes and bills just keep goin’ up. Now the wife’s got a female problem and damn Medicare won’t even cover all her bills. It’s a nightmare. The liberals have just fucked everything up. When I was a kid in the 60’s, my dad was a teacher, my mom stayed home and raised three kids, we owned a house free and clear and my dad got a new car every two years.  My wife and I worked hard and paid our taxes all our lives and now we got zilch.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said quietly, thinking we were reaching a kind of common ground. “Things were a lot better in the 60’s, but I’m not sure it was socialists or liberals who fucked things up. You know, as a result of 50 years of tax cuts that gave breaks mostly to people making a lot more than your dad or you or your wife, the wealth in this country has shifted away from the middle-class to an increasingly smaller portion of the population. All that money that was supposed to ‘trickle down’ got stuck at the top and money that would have been collected in taxes for the good of all of us wasn’t there. I read an article yesterday about how, if we changed the tax code back to the way it was in 1960, the government would receive …”

“Waddaya mean?” he said. “It’s the damn taxes that are killing everybody. We need LESS taxes not MORE. What the hell are you talking about? This is Armageddon. The Democrats are Satan. They’re gonna destroy this country with these socialist programs they’re passing. We’re seeing the end of everything good.

“No,” I interrupted, “You’ve got it wrong. The Democrats aren’t Satan. Satan LOST the battle of Armageddon and was cast into the abyss for a thousand years. If this is Armageddon, you’re on the wrong side. Taxes are necessary to sustain a healthy government and provide strong programs to support important services in any modern society. It isn’t having taxes that’s the problem, it’s who you tax and how much.”

“You one of them liberal assholes? What kind of crap is that?” he shot with a tone that caught the attention of everyone at the bar.

In an uncharacteristic moment of self-restraint I mumbled, “Oh, nothin’, it’s complicated, let’s just watch the game.”

So, I finished my beer as we watched the damned Yankees win in extra innings. We laughed and agreed it was a great game, shook hands and I left.

I love baseball and I love politics but I’m learning that logic and facts have little to do with the political and economic opinions many people hold and that intelligent conversation is frequently trumped by fear and hate. Baseball’s different. We can hate the other team but we don’t hate each other.

Damned socialists.

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