After the presidential election, a lot of Democrats insisted that the red-blue divide was really an intelligence gap: that no well-educated person could have voted for Bush.
Balderdash; plenty of smart people voted for him. Plenty of smart people support the war in Iraq. Plenty of smart people agree with Bush on tort reform.
But now comes a test. What on earth do Bush supporters think about their man as he starts work on Social Security?
Are they reading the news? Are they paying attention?
Bush's lies to the contrary, Social Security is not in crisis. It continues to have a surplus every year. That'll go away in, oh, 47 years or so, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Small, eminently reasonable changes --- increasing the contributions from wealthy taxpayers, for instance, or upping the retirement age slightly ---would wipe out that deadline.
And you know, of course, that we've been stealing money from the Social Security fund --- taking the surplus and spending it on other things.
This stuff is not hard to understand. Neither is the importance of Social Security. Before Social Security was enacted in 1935, elderly people made up a huge proportion of the nation's poor. Many of them were forced to live in abysmal "poorhouses."
These weren't unwed teenage mothers. They were parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles --- elderly people who weren't working and thus had no paycheck. And no retirement income.
Our president, a wealthy man who will have no such worries, wants to take away the guarantee of Social Security and replace it with gambling, in the form of private investments. This is consistent with Bush's every-man-for-himself philosophy. It is not consistent with the philosophy of a country that cares about its elderly.
The president has begun his privatization push. It's time now to push back. You can start by writing Greater Rochester's members of Congress: in the House, Republicans Thomas Reynolds, Randy Kuhl, and James Walsh and Democrat Louise Slaughter; in the Senate, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.
The first few words we heard about the tsunamis came in an NPR report, playing in the background as we sat talking with a daughter home for a warm, happy Christmas holiday. Earthquake... tidal waves... perhaps thousands dead.
Far away, in places far too familiar with tragedy. And the news receded from our consciousness.
But we could not ignore the news for long. Countries all around the Indian Ocean were hit: In Kenya, 3200 miles from the earthquake's origin, one life lost. Bangladesh, two. Seychelles, three. Tanzania, 10. Malaysia, 65; Myanmar, 65; Maldives, 69. Somalia, 200. Thailand, 4800. India, 9000. Sri Lanka, 28,700.
The numbers don't include the missing. Or the thousands and thousands more who may die in the dreadful, desperate aftermath of the tsunamis.
The photos keep coming. A father sobbing as he grasps the hand of his 8-year-old son. A mother screaming in anguish as she bends over her child. Dazed women watching as bodies are placed in a mass grave. Pictures of victims posted on the wall of a town hall to help families identify victims. Rows of bodies of children laid out on a concrete floor.
And then, desperately poor people, having lost what little they had, began enduring days without food and water.
By Monday of this week, donations were pouring into the area --- but many of the hardest-hit places were nearly impossible to reach. Children began to become ill. Rescue workers warned of starvation.
In some cultures, grief is expressed with loud public weeping and moaning. Perhaps it is more like an anguished howl of pain.
What else to do, in the face of all this monstrous, unanticipated, inexplicable tragedy? There is no one to blame. No terrorist, no superpower, no global warming.
We should give to the relief efforts, of course. And quickly. And shout to the skies: Send planes and ships --- send helicopters --- quickly. Get food and water to the living victims. Quickly.
And then stand and weep. Weep aloud.