In June 2008, my wife and I were selected, by fulfilling the age/income criteria, to meet with Senator Barak Obama and his wife, when he made a campaign stop in a retirement center in Columbus, Ohio. As a couple receiving Social Security, whose income was below the $50,000 level, we were typical of those he wanted to address in a speech that would emphasize taxes.
We arrived at the retirement center (actually a nursing home) for the scheduled interview and were greeted like celebrities. “Yes, we are ‘the couple’ with whom the Senator wants to chat. No, we do not have a list of questions to ask him; his staff contacted us for the conversation, we didn’t ask to interview him,” was our answer to the horde of news gatherers who swarmed us on our arrival wanting to know what we would talk about with the Senator and Mrs. Obama.
Making our way through a phalanx of Secret Service protection, we were ushered into a small room where Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama and the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, were seated. As we had been told, the five of us were alone in the room with only a cameraman to record the meeting.
My first temptation on entering was to reach for Governor Strickland’s hand to thank him for finally being on the right side of the race, since he had heretofore been a “Hillary supporter.” I didn’t succumb to the temptation as I didn’t think anyone else would appreciate the irony. Instead, I followed Jane into the room, feeling dwarfed by the situation and its participants.
The Senator took Jane’s hand and said, “We may be related. I have Payne relatives in Missouri.” The next twenty or so minutes, until a staff person stuck his head into the room to signal time for the news conference, continued as though we were talking with a niece and nephew whom we hadn’t seen since the last reunion. The Obamas were personable beyond our expectations or imaginations. They were effusive in expressing gratitude for our generation, that of their parents, for the educations and opportunities our hard work had afforded them.They asked about our children and grandchildren and proudly shared stories of their own children. Interspersed in the conversation were the Senator’s questions and our answers about our financial situation and how his proposals would impact our lives.
At the signal from the staffer, we followed the Obamas and the Governor out of the room and took our places behind the speaker’s lectern on the dais. At several places in his speech that followed, Senator Obama would refer to us by name and mention what we had shared in our conversation. We felt as though we were helping to shape a national policy that would be of real benefit to our generation of seniors.
That was then, this is now. In the three years since the thrill of being a part of a national presidential campaign, our net worth has declined by 25% and the value of our home has been cut nearly in half. So far the end of the month arrives before the overdraft alert from the Chase Bank. But that is no thanks to the US economy but rather to our receiving re-payment of a personal loan of a few years ago for the down payment on a house.
We have not thrown away the AP wire photo of our meeting the Obamas back in ‘ 08 and the mass-reproduction black and white photo of Barak, Michele and the girls is still affixed to our refrigerator along with the pictures and art work of our grandchildren, but it feels like that family reunion has been forgotten by that nephew and niece.
Those in corporate America who are the ones responsible for the decline in our net worth and the plunge in the value of our home have paid nothing for their misfeasance or malfeasance. Instead, they have benefited by massive bailouts and bonuses from their financial house employers. They have declared class warfare upon us and have brought our income, for the first time in our five decades of earnings, to a place below the median for all Americans. Corporate America has stolen our financial security, but that nephew has done nothing other than cooperate with the theft, even encouraged future misfeasance/malfeasance by not applying sanctions. President Obama sounds and acts like House Speaker Boehner is setting the agenda, somehow reminding the President that some third party is really calling the shots.
In my career as a clergyman, I made compromises. I ‘comforted the comfortable’ when the prophets in whose line I stood demanded that what I had to say and do should ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.’ I know the price to be paid for getting paid. Obama is paying the price to those whose funds financed his election and will finance another run for office. It is way too late for him to take another look at his moral compass and recognize that he is very much off the course of being grateful for the generation and the class that made such sacrifices to give him, his wife and daughters such opportunities. I really do hope that when his power is drained, Barak Obama will be able to forgive himself for the damage he has done to those who held out for the hope he once offered.
So much for reunions.