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Jerry’s Ink: What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It started a few weeks ago when my good friend Ellen Simons posted this quote on her Facebook page:

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who will not.” —Thomas Jefferson


Seemed innocent enough to me. I hit the “Like” button. A few other people did the same. Then came the comments from those who apparently didn’t agree. “Does this mean we need to be sure the tax cuts for billionaires remain?” answered one man.

I watched with amusement as those simple words by Thomas Jefferson were twisted by some people into a rich-versus-poor debate. Like him or not (I don’t), we have a failing, socialist-leaning president to whom every speech is an opportunity to ignite class warfare. Ever listen to how he uses the word “rich”? He spits it out as though working hard and making a lot of money and not depending on government to grease the way is a crime against society.

If Obama concentrated on jobs as hard as he did on health care, this country would be in a lot stronger position right now. I watched Obama in his “Taking back the country one backyard at a time” campaign the other night and found myself thinking about my Mom and Dad. Then I thought of Mr. Kramer for the first time in years.

When I was 7 years old, I would sit by the window and wait for Mr. Kramer. He would show up at 4 p.m. every Wednesday. He wore a brown fedora and a rumpled brown suit and had a stub of an unlit cigar hanging from his mouth. He always had a great big smile on his face and, to keep the cigar from falling, he clenched it between his teeth and talked in a mumble. He was a nice jolly man and, as a kid, I could never understand why my mother would make a sour face when I would shout out, “Mr. Kramer is here, Mom.”

“How are you, Mrs. Della Femina?” he would ask. “I am fine,” she would say, deadpan. I never saw her smile in front of Mr. Kramer. “And you,” he would say, “you little monkey. How are you doing in school?” “I’ve got three stars already, Mr. Kramer,” I would answer proudly. “Isn’t that great?” he would say.

While we talked, my mother would be digging into her pocketbook and most of the time would come up with 75 cents. Sometimes she would say, “Mr. Kramer, I’m a little short this week. Is it OK if I pay you next week?” “No problem,” he would reply. But he would look serious, and my Mom would look even more serious. A few seconds later he would break into a smile and say, “I’ll see you next week.” Then he would pinch my cheek and say, “Keep getting those stars, monkey, and everything will be all right.” “I will,” I would answer.

One day I said, “I really like Mr. Kramer. Why does everybody give him money?” (Thinking to myself maybe this was a career for me. You know, you walk around with a cigar in your mouth, smile and everybody gives you money.) “Because he’s an insurance man.” “What’s insurance?” “That’s something you have to have.” “Why?” “In case something goes wrong. You need to have insurance to help you pay in case a bad thing happens.” “What do you mean, a bad thing?” I pressed. My Mom looked sad. “People get sick, bad things happen,” she mumbled. There was no way in the world she was going to talk about people dying and paying for funerals. “I don’t know what you mean by bad things,” I pressed. “You don’t have to know now. You have to know when you grow up,” and she walked away from the answer. It was years before I learned the importance of insurance.

At that time, my father, a good union man who voted Democrat, was working at three jobs. He was a press operator at The New York Times. He sold newspapers in the Sea Beach (now the N) train station, starting at 6 in the morning. And he ran a ride in Coney Island from 7 p.m. until midnight. The three jobs brought in a total of $35. When you work three jobs to make $35 a week, 75 cents to pay for a coffin when you’re dead is a lot of money. But my mom paid. She had no choice. It was her responsibility. And she wasn’t about to walk away from her responsibility. Not my Mom and Dad. Not your Mom and Dad, either.

When did so many people decide it was the government’s responsibility to take care of them from the cradle to the grave? When did it change? When did so many people decide that someone else should pay for their medical bills and insurance? My parents were simple people who believed one had to work for a living. I realize that by today’s standards they didn’t have a penny, but they were wealthy—very, very wealthy, not in riches, but in spirit. They, along with millions like them, helped make this the richest, greatest country in the world. A country that Barack Obama and some of his followers are trying desperately to move in another direction.

Remember to vote on Nov. 2. Vote as though your way of life depends on it.

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