About 10 years ago, there was an election for president. The Democratic candidate was John Kerry, who has gone on to become one of the worst postwar secretaries of state, a delusional incompetent about how foreign policy works. That’s another story.
The Democrats’ candidate for vice president was Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a stunningly handsome plaintiffs’ trial lawyer. Edwards’ main point during his campaigns was that there were two Americas — a rich America and a struggling, barely-getting-by America.
I have always thought he was completely right about that. He came to grief over having an affair with a beautiful videographer during the campaign and trying to lie to cover up the child that was the fruit of that liaison. But his basic point was right. There are two Americas, and in fact, in free, prosperous Western and Eastern countries, there are two types of people generally — those who take care of themselves and their families, and in so doing have some sense of order and confidence in their lives, and those who live lives of chaos and fear.
Now, bear in mind, I am not talking about health issues or moral issues. I am talking about financial issues. Although I am bound to say that persons who live lives of questionable morality and with terrible health habits are usually found to have a dicey money situation as well, in my experience.
I know I have touched on this issue before, but it’s life or death so it can absorb a bit more ink. The people who have their lives under control have capital, by and large. They don’t have to have enormous sums of financial capital — although that is a fine way to live. But they have to possess a minimum human capital of education or some highly marketable skill — a law degree or an ability to hit the three-pointer regularly with a 7-foot-tall man guarding you.
They have to be able to work on a regular schedule. They have to show up when summoned, dressed properly. They have to produce something of value, whether it is a filing system, or a fixed toilet, or the reorganization of a company in bankruptcy.
This has to be a real skill, not a wish or a fantasy. They have to be able to maintain sobriety except on rare, nonworking occasions. They have to be able to get along with other people. They cannot just say, “I demand you accept me for who I am, and I refuse to change.” They have to adjust to get along with the world as it is.
They have to be able to save regularly on a plan that will assure them of adequate resources in case of a layoff, recession, or illness. They have to be smart enough to know that they probably cannot invest sensibly by themselves. They must reach out to competent people with a good and verifiable reputation for skillful, honest money management to help them.
There are fantastic numbers of scoundrels out there who want to abuse you where your money is involved. Make sure you get sound references. For the great majority of Americans, there are no rich parents out there to take care of you. Even if you started out with care-taking parents, they are not immortal. You have to be your own caretaker where money — and education, morality, and discipline — are involved.
If you take that to heart and get good people to help you, you have a much better chance of being in the America that is not torn to pieces by fear and confusion.
If you do not make certain that you are your own caretaker, if you rely on fate and chance and whatever the bottle or the smoke sends your way, you are almost certain to wind up in the unhappy America. The people who wind up flipping burgers when they are in their 50s are either immigrants or people who were born here and did not do anything to make a life for themselves.
My very favorite admonition about this comes from my colleague, Charles Payne, with whom I appear regularly on Fox News. Payne, who grew up poor, said recently, “If you’re working for minimum wage at a McDonald’s and you’re in your 30s, it’s not shame on McDonald’s. It’s shame on you for not having taken the trouble to acquire the skills to get a better paying job.” This is a paraphrase, and I say it as often as I can.
Yes, indeed. This is two Americas — one of which many have prepared themselves to live like adults in a real and sometimes unforgiving world. The others act like children, refuse to work or acquire meaningful human or financial capital, and then whine and cry about it to those who do work.They do that as individuals to those in their worlds — or they do it through the political process. They do that by voting to have a government that will compel the hard working to work or go into debt as a nation to support those who do not want to act like adults.
Now, of course, for those temporarily out of a job but trying hard to work, for those subject to medical crisis, this does not apply. But for the tens of millions who just expect someone else to do the heavy lifting it applies in painful ways — painful for their own low self-esteem selves and painful for the smaller and smaller group who work to support them.
There are indeed two Americas, but you generally have a choice of which one you want to be in. It does not usually happen by accident.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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