January 21, 2009
Whether or not you supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, you have to admit that he gave a nice inaugural speech. I listened to the speech (streaming online video) and turned off inaugural coverage after the entire ceremony ended. I really am not interested in watching or hearing talking heads dissect the speech. The audacity of those who interpret the meaning of someone else's words for the masses astounds me. I used to shroud my brain in my skeptic's umbrella in my English literature classes when professors would tell us what specific passages of poetry or novels meant—as if they knew what was going on in the author's head as he or she wrote them. And by the way, lest anyone mistake my meaning, when I wrote about shrouding my brain, I meant figuratively instead of literally.
I can't tell you what Obama's speech meant, because only he knows the real meaning and intent behind the words he delivered. All I will say is that in my entirely subjective opinion, it was a nice speech, not unlike other nice inaugural speeches. And perhaps that's all it needed to be. However this listener was hoping for more.
I wanted to hear the same thing I wanted to hear throughout the election—a detailed plan for getting us out of the economic mess we're in. Yes, we all need to cut back and live less large. I think Obama said that. It's a great idea that harkens back to our Puritanical roots. But cutting back now has become a necessity rather than an ideal idea.
Last night's dinner out with a childhood friend made me think more about the slippery slope we're heading down as we cut back and wonder just how hard the bottom will feel. We talked about the economy as we looked for economical menu items at an economical restaurant. My friend retired early from teaching, and she said that if she had known that the economy would tank, she would have continued to work longer. She's lost money in her investments and is worried about supporting herself in the future. She's continuing to substitute teach as needed, but even those opportunities are becoming more and more scarce.
Four large counties in the Metro Atlanta area no longer are accepting applications for substitute teachers. How do I know? An acquaintance—who once was a company president and has been out of work since April— was told when he attempted to apply to substitute that no applications were being accepted in these counties. This 66-year-old former executive with two college degrees is collecting unemployment, trying to figure out how to pay the astronomical medical bills from his wife's cancer treatment, and is unable to secure any interviews. He's worked hard all his life and wants to pay his way. How is he supposed to accomplish that?
Are these two cutting back? You bet. So is everyone I know. Just this month, I called to cancel a service because the rate increase was too high (73 percent over last year)—or rather that's the excuse I gave. After heaving an audible sigh upon hearing my news, the company's rep asked if I would continue the service at the old rate. I said I'd think about it. But the truth is, my husband and I took a close look at our family's expenditures and decided to cut those that were "nice to have" but "not necessary." The sad thing is, while the few cuts we made haven't really changed our quality of life very much, they probably have made things tougher for the companies that provide them. As we cut back spending, more companies will go out of business or ask for bailouts, more people will lose their jobs, and there will be fewer dollars to go around, which leads to more spending cuts. It"s a vicious cycle.
At the end of the day, the inauguration was a vibrant, awe-inspiring event. The president's speech was nice, but words can't put people to work, food in their stomachs, or clothes on their backs. Only actions can do that.