Essex column: Are you better off than you were in 2008?
Remember Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line in 1980?
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
First-term incumbent Jimmy Carter had been saddled with rising oil prices, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and, generally, four really tough years in U.S. and world affairs.
The political genius of Reagan’s question was that it put the election in personal terms. Also, like a lawyer, he knew the answer to the question for most people, at least in how they felt.
Carter himself had told Americans they suffered a crisis of confidence, as he put it, and chided them for their consumptive ways.
“Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” the president told the nation in July 1979. “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.”
Then he asked Americans “for your good and for your nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit and to set your thermostats to save fuel.”
It is the last time I recall any national politician asking the American public to sacrifice.
Carter was right, but we’re not into that sort of thing, and it set up Reagan perfectly.
Remembering the 1980 campaign, I decided to ask all of you a similar question and to invite you to submit emails about how your lives have changed during the Obama administration.
Your life personally. Not your neighbors’ lives, not the lives of theoretical groups of people, not the lives of the rich, the inner-city poor — your life.
My plan is to publish these online, perhaps printing a few in the paper, depending on how long they are and how many we receive.
I am going to adhere to a strict rule: This must be about your actual experience, not what you think happened to someone else, to society at large, what you heard about someone or what might happen under President Trump or President Clinton.
Yes, this is a political question. How did government, if it did, influence your life? How was your life directly affected by the big issues we discuss in national and local politics, topics including terrorism, health care and insurance, immigration, taxation and more?
For example, if you lost your insurance or had to change doctors, or if you are insured today and weren’t in 2008, tell about those experiences.
Was your business clearly affected, did a tax policy or regulation influence your hiring decisions, the hours you worked, your ability to buy a home?
A lot happens in eight years, but I’ll start:
In 2008, I was working at the Detroit Free Press, which proved to be a little like whitewater rafting: Exhilarating and precarious. The auto industry and the newspaper industry were both in the early stages of a crisis that the car companies, with government help, pulled out of, but that continues for metro newspapers.
Shortly before Lehman Brothers’ collapse and the Wall Street contagion tore through the economy, Gannett, for which I had worked for 25 years at that point, froze its defined benefit pension plan that had promised a solid foundation for retirement. Then, as so many of us experienced, my 401(k) tanked with the stock market crash.
In 2010, I got throat cancer, but was lucky to have pretty much Cadillac insurance coverage, owing to the fact that Free Press managers had plans comparable to the union-negotiated policies our staffs had. I paid less than $2,000 out of pocket for about $200,000 in medical bills.
The cancer, newspaper crisis and fact that I lost a big incentive to stay with Gannett led me to look outside of news, spending seven months with Rocky Mountain Institute here in the Roaring Fork Valley; deciding that the think tank life was not for me; returning to Gannett in Cincinnati; taking advantage of the real estate collapse and buying a condo in Carbondale; then coming to the Post Independent.
I gave up metro news for the lifestyle change of having clean air and the outdoor activities I love right outside my door.
As readers know, I’m a very political creature. So how do I see government’s influence in my recent journey? Next to nothing. Economic and technological forces disrupted my industry; government didn’t cause it and shouldn’t have done anything to stop it.
I’ve been steadily insured, work now for a company fortunate to operate in several resort locations that allow it to thrive in a tough industry, and haven’t been encumbered by taxes, regulations or lost any of my freedoms.
In fact, my situation, economically and psychologically, has improved under every presidential administration of my adult life: Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush (despite the Great Recession, I made gains from 2000-08) and Obama. The government did play a big role earlier in providing my public education, including higher education subsidies.
How about you? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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