Legion resents being called a problem

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Legion resents being called a problem. I call him Legion after that story in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus encountered a crazed and possessed man with a graveyard reputation. The demon inside the man was exorcised by our Lord and, as the demon came out, Jesus asked him his name.

“My name is Legion,” the demon replied, “for we are many.”

The Legion of whom I write today is one of many millions but is no demon. He could be a she, for this Legion has no specific gender. For my purposes today, I’ll just use the masculine. I had lunch with this Legion, and it was not in a county that connects to this one, but this county has its fair share of Legions.

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In fact the United States of America is full of people just like the one with whom I had lunch and they are pretty ticked. As happens most often these days, conversations turn to the sad shape of lots of things, but one, in particular, got him going like no other.

“I resent being called a problem,” he said.

I have known him for a while and the last thing I would ever consider him to be would be a problem. He is what I would call a “stand-up” kind of guy. In other words, he is one on whom you might count. He has always worked and always been a responsible and involved citizen of the country that he and others, just like him, helped build.

Legion was born, I’m going to guess, in the early 1940s. His daddy either fought for or supported this country during World War II. His momma and daddy taught him hard work and responsibility and, when adulthood came, he joined the armed forces and spent his turn in the barrel.

When he got out, he did not return home to the farm. Instead Legion went to Atlanta and got a job with one of the big companies up there. He had a good education from a small, country school, but more important were the lessons I mentioned earlier. He took his momma’s and daddy’s work ethic with him to Atlanta and did real well. Legion put in 30 years with the big company and moved up; perhaps not spectacularly, but steadily.

He and his wife built a house that they could afford and they both took after their parents and raised their kids in responsible ways. They were active in their community and church, all the while looking forward to the day when they could return to the simple and relaxed living that Legion had known as a child. They planned to retire on the home place and live out their golden years there.

“Now,” he says, “I’m a problem.”

What’s Legion talking about?

It has to do with his faith in a governmental program called Social Security. For all of his 40 years of working, he and his company paid substantial sums of money into the program. He did not mind because it was part of his plan for his retirement and Legion is a responsible sort of fellow.

He did not resent this portion of his earnings being combined with millions of other American’s earnings to provide a social safety net for those, like his momma and daddy and their generation, who had not put too much thinking into their final years. There were also many who were not able to work and, with everyone making a contribution, they could have some kind of financial security, too.

The money, Legion was told, was plenty and it would be protected in a trust fund. The contributions were much greater than the payments and the surplus, transferred into the trust fund, created a formula that would remain healthy for a long, long time. Legion had a built-in respect for his government and its ability to do what it said.

Somewhere along the way, though, this simple program with its admirable goal of providing a safety net for the elderly and disabled was hijacked. Programs were expanded beyond the initial mandate and the money that was supposed to be protected was not. You’ve all heard about the problem. Social Security is unsustainable; that’s obvious. Legion just doesn’t like being called the problem!

“I resent Social Security being called an entitlement,” he explains, “at least from a negative point of view. My company and I paid in faithfully and substantially over a long period of time and, now it seems as if they are accusing me of wanting something for nothing. I don’t like that.”

Well Social Security is a government entitlement program. An entitlement program is one that guarantees and provides benefits for a particular group, so from the technical aspect, Legion is wrong to be offended by the word “entitlement,” but he does have a point. Just because he and millions of others are reaching the age to collect on benefits, they should not be called problems.

If the United States of America had followed the initial formula for this safety net program and not raided the trust fund for other expenditures, Social Security would not be in the crosshairs of our budgetary problems. If all had gone as originally planned, it might even be an example of a good government’s compassion and provisions for its elderly and needy.

What happened, instead, is a great example of unchecked and undisciplined government spending and programming. The trust fund that was to be a locked box instead turned into Pandora’s Box and we all know what happened when that box was opened.

We’ve got a whole lot of problems to solve in this country, but let me tell you one that is a misnomer. Legion is not a problem and don’t call him one. He doesn’t like it!