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Mitt Romney seems to believe that not only do 47% of us pay no taxes (demonstrably false) but that we also believe that we are entitled to healthcare, as well as stuff like Social Security, Medicare, and other benefits that we pay for through our payroll taxes. Now, one can argue that access to healthcare is not a right. One can also argue that climate change is not real, the world is flat and that Santa is real. What is a waste of time to argue about, however, is whether or not those benefits--entitlements--we pay for in taxes are benefits that we are due because we have paid for them.

Some people don't like the fact that essentially, one generation is paying for the benefits of the last, that people still working are essentially paying for the benefits of the retired. In part that is true. Still, everyone pays in and everyone should get something out. In fact, because there is a cap on SS/Medicare/Medicaid contributions, poor people and middle class people who are working pay a much larger percent of their income towards this than the upper-middle class and the rich, who still are entitled to collect their checks when they retire even if they retire worth tens of millions of dollars. You know what? I don't have any problem with a man like Romney retiring and collecting his benefits. He paid for them, he should get them just like anyone else.

What's troubling though, is that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don't seem to believe in these benefits to begin with. If anything, they figure that if we're going to have to have them, at least they should be privatized so that people on Wall Street and private insurance companies can make money off of them while reducing the direct benefit to the recipient.

Today, there are very few people living who can remember life before Social Security (though many who can remember it before Medicare/Medicaid). We can get a good glimpse of what that looked like though, because a director named Leo McCarey made a film called Make Way for Tomorrow back in 1937. What's it about you ask? It's about middle-class life before Social Security.

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Leo McCarey directed lots of films. Some with the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Harold Lloyd, and perhaps most famously The Awful Truth, Going My Way and An Affair to Remember. Before going all anti-communist in the 50's  however, McCarey was keenly interested in social justice issues informed by his Roman Catholic faith (think Dorothy Day, not Benedict the Umpteenth). To that end he made Make Way for Tomorrow, a gut-wrenching and very true-to-life film about what happened to some people--hard working, home-owning, middle-class people--when they were no longer able to work, lost their savings, and lost their homes. It's a film about the reality of many American families before Social Security and increasingly, many American families today.

In Make Way for Tomorrow, the protagonists are Lucy and Barkley cooper, an elderly couple. Barkley was an accountant who retired after many years at the same firm. Retirement costs more than they counted on though, and eventually they lose their home to the bank. They call their children together to break the news, which is followed by the children negotiating--and arguing--about who is going to take them in. The only child who has enough room for both of them has a husband who is dead set against the idea, and the elderly couple are split up between the two coasts in what is to be a temporary situation which becomes permanent. The relationship between the siblings and their different situations in life is very real, even by today's standards. The film explores the difficulties of having a retired parent come to live with a child and the ending, where Lucy and Barkley realize that they will end their days apart from one another is gut-wrenching.

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Now, I know this is just a movie, a work of fiction, but it is also an allegory. It's a film about what can happen to people when there is no safety net. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the Republican Party want to take us back to that time. It's not Mitt Romney's job to "worry about those people". They want us to take personal responsibility, apparently far and beyond the personal responsibility we take in working and paying our taxes all our lives (rather than avoiding paying our taxes) and trying to save and invest above and beyond that for our own retirement. Their idea of "personal responsibility" is total self-sufficiency. Well, Make Way for Tomorrow shows us where he would like to shift that burden: to families, if we're lucky enough to have families that are in a position to help us. Mitt Romney would say that Barkley Cooper obviously didn't invest wisely and deserves his fate, even if he lost much of his savings in 1929 (which is kind of implied, given the time frame in which the movie takes place and the fact that he was able to hold on to his house suggests that he did, in fact, have savings and investments at some point). Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan think our payroll taxes don't count as taxes. They don't think we're entitled to the money we've put aside, that has been matched by our employers (you know, those job creator-types) in Social Security and Medicare. They think we're moochers. Mitt should watch Make Way for Tomorrow. The character Barkley Cooper is not a moocher. He's actually a fairly privileged citizen for his day.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan should take a look at Leo McCarey's film. Heck, everyone should.

Originally posted to commonmass on Tue Sep 18, 2012 at 08:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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