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Retirees entitled to my money?

Published Oct. 13, 2005

My father and I have this friendly, running debate. When I'm your age, I tell him, there'll be no Social Security for me.

At this point my father always looks at me as though he thinks his grown daughter is going daffy. To him, Social Security is as certain as the sunrise.

Yes it is, I say, but only in your lifetime.

This never seems to bother him much. I guess I can understand. My father and I are arguing across a generational divide, and it is difficult to hear one another.

I'm heading toward 40. My father is 75. He was promised Social Security. He paid for it. Now it's his due. He loves me, but what happens to Social Security when he's gone isn't his worry.

My father is not a military retiree, but he is a World War II veteran. That's one reason I could picture him outside the Dale Mabry Highway gate of MacDill Air Force Base in the Monday sun.

The other reason was our old argument about Social Security. The military retirees were making a similar pitch.

"If you gave 20 years of your life and they told you you were entitled to these things, how would you feel? What would you do if you were in our shoes?" a retired Army master sergeant, William Turner, asked.

I would feel completely lousy. I would feel utterly betrayed. So I would stand out in the hot sun, like William Turner, and pray that somebody important was reading my picket sign.

It was difficult not to feel sympathy for the protesters, many of them men my father's age. But the sympathy only went so far.

I thought some about how the retirees can move, if they choose, to be near a base that stays open and still receive their benefits.

But I thought mostly about why the government wants to close MacDill _ to save money.

And about how the cost of government only goes in one direction, and how it is never down.

And about who will end up paying for all this.

It won't be the people getting the benefits now. It's the people who follow, my generation and the ones after.

When I asked the people on the picket line about this, I heard several arguments in reply:

One was to change the subject.

Another was to repeat that the retirees had risked their lives for their country and deserved what they had been promised when they enlisted so long ago.

Another was to ask why doesn't the government, to save money, stop paying out foreign aid.

Another was why doesn't Congress cut its own pay to save money.

Still another was it would be up to my generation to fight for Social Security the way the people on the picket line were fighting for the right to enjoy the benefits retirees get at MacDill.

Nobody could acknowledge the fact that the government is going broke, that everybody has to share in the pain of paying for it, and that the bills are already coming due.

And no matter whom I talked to across the generational divide, we didn't seem to hear each other.

This situation _ of one generation divided against another in a struggle over available government money _ is not pleasant to contemplate. After all, we love our fathers, our mothers, dearly.

People like my father and William Turner scrimped and saved to have what they have. Their children, I and perhaps you, are the beneficiaries of their self-discipline. And yet we're also the ones who will pay for what they get now, who already foresee the day when the cash will run out.

William Turner and I debated military benefits. My father and I discussed Social Security. If I'm reading the news correctly, we could have a comparable discussion about the future of Medicare. Like those other government benefits, it wasn't written into the Bill of Rights and doesn't come for free.

So you will pardon me, I hope, when I say I felt some resentment towards those marchers at MacDill. As usually happens with dutiful daughters, I also felt guilty for feeling resentful towards those good and decent people who stood in the hot sun with their memories of blood and battles, their flags and their outrage.

But such is the vantage point from this side of the generational divide.