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John Cox: The Saturday Morning Toast

I took my 4 year old son to eat breakfast this morning. Having three sisters, he appreciates the father-son time more than most. We went to eat at one of Marion’s iconic eateries, Richard’s Restaurant. It’s your typical greasy spoon that you can find in just about every small town in America. Richard Godbold has been a short order cook in Marion for over 50 years. He has been serving up good food for good folks at his present location since 1982. My father’s morning ritual always included breakfast at Richard’s nearly every day up until shortly before he died. I always enjoyed the times that he let me tag along.

We sat at the counter, looking up at the walls clad with old license plates and Route 66 signs from all over the country. Distinctive 1950’s music provided a faded backdrop to the sizzling griddle and folks going about their morning. Noah pointed to a colored-pencil sketch, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, of a red 1955 Chevy hanging over the door. There’s just something about nostalgia that makes me proud to have been raised in a small town in America.

As we sat there eating our breakfast, Noah explored the limits of the swivel bar stools. He was grinning ear to ear and ever confident that his Daddy had the answers to all of his questions. “Why do these stools spin around?… Do they make baked potatoes here?… Does apple juice have seeds?”

It’s my hope that one day Noah will have fond memories of spending time like this with his father, as I do of mine. And, if he is lucky, he will be able to share similar experiences with his sons and grandsons and the tradition will perpetuate.

Staring into my plate of grits and eggs, I worried about the future that lies ahead for my son. One day, I may not have all of the answers for him. I’m concerned for our little town and our country. I feel that each generation is obligated to leave the country in better shape for the next.

When I was born in 1965, the national debt was only $322 billion. Today, it’s 38 times that amount – $12.5 trillion, and that number is expected to double in the next ten years. To some, the whole national debt issue is irrelevant. They feel that it doesn’t affect them and never will – It’s just something they ignore.

When I try to pay attention to national issues and things that are affecting our government, I hear, “You’re way too involved in that stuff. Why? There’s nothing you can do to change it.” But if not me or you, then who? Isn’t that one of the founding principles of this country – a government of the people and for the people? “The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances” and rest of the Constitution says it all. In America, the ability to affect change is not reserved for just noblemen or monarchs. The power lies within its people.

I had a fun, but spirited conversation with a good friend the night before about the healthcare bill and politics in general. He’s a moderate democrat who has had some experience in politics. I was amazed at how little he was concerned about our country’s financial situation. “We will never pay it back. So what?” he said. “(In Marion) we are on the receiving end.” To him, government spending is just a way that we can get a bigger piece of the pie. I do not agree. Nor do I agree with his misinformed rhetoric that it’s all Bush’s fault, and that Clinton left us a surplus. You see, this is a common misconception among democrats. It’s the deception that politicians portray when they use the terms “deficit” and “debt” interchangeably. My good friend is under the impression that the Clinton surplus was somehow over and above our total debt. You know, “We were paid in full, until Bush ran up the deficit.” LOL.

What really happened in the Clinton years (1993-2000)? Well, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Bill Clinton increased the national debt EVERY year he was in office, starting from $4 trillion in 1992 to $5.6 trillion at the end of 2000.

The so-called surplus years were actually annual budgets where our federal revenues turned out to be more that what we spent in that year. That’s a good thing. However, some of those revenues were from “off-budget” items, like Medicare and Social Security. Until recently, both Medicare and Social Security have taken in more in taxes than they have had to pay out in entitlements each year. This “extra” money gets immediately borrowed by the government, which adds to our national debt. That’s a bad thing. Right now, $2.5 trillion of our $12.5 trillion debt is owed to the trust funds of the Medicare and Social Security programs. The trouble with this is that the “off-budget” surpluses have been masking the “on-budget” deficits that have been occurring over and over and over. Folks, this will catch up with us. Our current track is unsustainable.

If we are to leave this country to our children in sound shape, we must act now. So for now, my part is to help educate people on the real situation. I will engage folks in conversation. I will write this blog. Do your part. Come November, go vote. Vote in the primaries. Support candidates around the country that will demonstrate fiscal responsibility. It’s time to put people in office that “get it.”

Noah and I finished off our breakfast and headed out of Richard’s Restaurant this morning. An Elvis song was just coming on as we walked out of the door. Noah grabbed my hand; his other hand was occupied, nibbling on his toast. It was my turn to grin.