July 12, 2004
Alzheimer's, Reagan and Big Government
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
On Friday, June 11, my young mother was diagnosed by a neurologist with severe memory loss, either Alzheimer's or something like it. That date was also the day of greatest pomp and ceremony for former President Ronald Reagan.
I must admit that I drew little comfort from the traditional consolations in the funeral coverage. Aside from personal grief, when I remember Reagan, I always remember his "Let's get government off the backs of the people," a slogan Reagan took over from former Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who had run against him in the 1980 GOP primaries.
To someone who has just spent wearisome weeks touring retirement homes, there is something less than reassuring in this battle cry. I for one do not want government "off the backs" of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I want government to be intrusive wherever necessary, to prevent the helpless and frail from being taken advantage of. If we're talking about people who need their finances and their health monitored by trusted others, I want "government" (meaning, the rest of us) to be the original 800-pound gorilla.
Perhaps it is beside the point that Reagan himself did not need public scrutiny, to be kept safe and well cared for, since his finances permitted his being kept in his own comfortable house. Perhaps it is beside the point that Reagan's elder care was handsomely subsidized by the very "government" he campaigned against. Everyone in his nineties should be cared for with the same tenderness and scrupulousness. To keep my own mother safe, I chose deliberately not to place her in a facility in Tom DeLay's district (Sugar Land, TX), where some of her relatives live. I would advise every caring relative to be very leery of placement anywhere the local politicians are hostile to "regulation."
When it comes to those nearest and dearest to me, I WANT regulation. After all, if we're going to remove public scrutiny from places that care for the elderly, why stop there? Why not remove it from elementary school cafeterias? Neonatal intensive care units? Heck, why not do away with those pesky Boards of Health?
The broader argument, of course, is that in America we are the government. The narrower argument hits much closer to home: sad to say, there are citizens among us who do prey upon the elderly. A "Licensed Representative" of Guaranty Associates, Inc., in Houston, went to my widowed mother's door soon after my father's funeral, met with her alone at home, and sold her an unneeded annuity. An aide at a local assisted living facility induced the mother of a friend of mine to write her a check for $85,000.
Be it noted, this is not a plea for a "gimme" or for special treatment; quite the reverse. My parents worked and saved all their lives, and all they asked for was a fair deal, in Harry Truman's words, on the fruits of their labor.
Drawing me together with others far more than the televised riderless horse (puzzling, since Reagan did not die in office) was the thought -- while I was clearing out my mother's house -- of all the other women my age doing the same. All those jelly-jar and cheese-spread fruit juice glasses, truly impressive accumulations of Twisties and rubber bands, collections of Mason jars and plastic containers for leftovers so you didn't have to buy expensive Tupperware, all being thrown out by women all over America. It's awesome, when you think about it.
Even more awesome is the fact that, starting with so little after the Depression and World War II, my parents did manage to provide for their offspring and for their own old age.
And this, to be brutally honest, is exactly what ninety percent of Republicans now in office are working against. Everything that helped my parents succeed is being destroyed by the "deregulation" and "lower-taxes" cadre that supports every kind of corporate greed, mismanagement, and unrealism.
My mother, who graduated from college summa cum laude, can no longer follow a recipe. Nor can she remember how to make the biscuits she made thousands of times without a recipe. But she still remembers that she's a Democrat. Looking around at disappearing retirement pensions, rising college tuition, uncontrolled insurance premiums, rising health care costs, rising rates for elder care, and higher rates on credit, I do not foresee changing in that regard either.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Margie Burns, a native Texan, writes freelance in Cheverly, Maryland. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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