by Suzanne Diehl
This is a story of a typical American middle class family.
Typical, in the sense that they are very "comfortable" with
their lives. They have the requisite two jobs, two cars, two
children and a dog and a cat (two pets). They even have two
mortgages (a first, and a home equity loan).
They also have the requisite extended families of parents, brothers,
sisters, in-laws and even an outlaw (the maverick of the family, Uncle
Joe, who was put away for some years for tax fraud). All of whom are just
as typical as our subjects. Well, maybe Uncle Joe isn't typical, but you
get the idea…
The comfortable life of this family is very much taken for granted. Their
four bedroom, three bath suburban house is in a fine community with good
schools, low crime and wonderful neighbors. Dad's position as a manager
in a large corporation in the city brings home a six-figure income. Mom's
job as a retail store manager at the local mall pays well enough to make
it worthwhile. The kids are spoiled, yet polite teenagers, whose materialistic
appetites for "stuff" grows from wanting the latest PlayStation game to
the latest cool car.
The family belongs to the local golf club, the Lions Club and a non-denominational
church. They attend church infrequently, mostly on the major religious
holidays. They consider themselves upstanding members of these communities.
The comfort of this family is not affected by those horrors that are
borne daily by the urban poor. No drive-by shootings, no mass layoffs
at the plant that employs 100% of those who work in the "hood". No gang
members and hookers roam their streets and intimidate the seniors who
shop, by necessity, at the corner convenience store. No school shootings,
drug deaths or teenage pregnancies are witnessed. The mantra spoken in
their home when watching the evening news is "Oh, how terrible! That could
never happen here!"
Current events are not high on the priority list of these people. Oh,
sure, they gripe about high gas prices, the cost of utilities, and the
government. Dad puts money away in a retirement account because he doesn't
believe that Social Security will be around when he needs it, but if asked
which political party has the best program for "Saving Social Security",
he cannot tell you what the proposals are. The election to come is a non-event
for Dad. He doesn't feel the need to vote. His candidate is a shoo-in.
Dad is a staunch Republican, feeling that large government programs are
bad for the country and that the term "regulation" should be abolished
from the American vocabulary. Dad doesn't seem to realize that in his
audit manager's position at the large corporation, he is the embodiment
of all large organizations' audit departments, making sure that people
follow the "Regulations" for the good of the corporation.
Dad wants to throw those "tax and spend" Democrats out of the government.
The latest Democratic president was a "disgrace" and a liar. Dad tells
his children that his candidate is a "kind hearted" man who will bring
integrity and honor back to the White House. Dad won't watch any television
news channel except Fox News because all of the others stations are members
of the "liberal media". Dad doesn't choose to remember that his current
affluence and good fortune were gained in the last 6 years. Prior to that,
Dad had been "downsized" from his middle management job, during the mad
days of "mergers and acquisitions", the Reagan/Bush game show.
Mom is a closet Democrat, unable to voice her opinions on the "Women's"
issues for fear of being ridiculed by her Republican husband, family,
friends and neighbors. Mom knows something about sexual discrimination,
being passed over time and again for promotion and each time having to
"familiarize" (i.e. train) her new male boss about his duties.
The last candidate was hired because he his father was the cousin of the
president of her company. His "qualifications" were more impressive than
her 10 years of experience. But Mom doesn't feel the need to vote to support
the candidate of the party that sponsored legislation to end just such
practices. "It's too much trouble", she told her daughter, when asked
if she intended to vote in the election. "I'd have to get up a whole hour
Mom also knows something about a woman's right to choose whether or not
to have a baby. In her college days, she fell in love with a popular jock,
got "knocked up" and suddenly found she was without a boyfriend, let alone
a husband to help raise the child. Since this was a fairly rare occurrence
in those days and family planning clinics were non-existent, Mom spent
the most terrifying weeks of her life attempting to find a way out of
her life-altering dilemma. Luckily for Mom, the college health service
nurse had contacts to a kindly local GP, who took pity on all of the "fallen"
girls in this situation and had a lucrative practice, performing abortions
for big bucks, after hours, in his off-campus office. Mom hasn't forgotten
that soul-searching experience, she just buries it under layers of guilt
and thanks for the two children that came along when she was able to take
care of them. But Mom still doesn't feel a need to vote. They'd never
repeal Roe v. Wade! And besides, she's past worrying about the possibility
of an unwanted child.
The teenagers are completely uninterested in the election. They just
wish it was over, so they could get Dad to stop watching Fox News. It
doesn't make any difference to them which candidate gets the prize. They're
both old and unhip.
In early November, the election is held. Being "too close to call", the
results of the election are contested. Eventually, The election is finally
settled to the satisfaction of most of this family, as well as their friends
and neighbors. Their lives go on as usual.
This typical, comfortable, insulated family will soon have a rude awakening.
The near future is not nearly so bright as the past. The newly "selected"
president has been speaking about "the recession" and the need for a tax
cut. The family hasn't yet felt the effects of this "recession", but support
their new leader, looking forward to the extra $2,500 a year in disposable
income promised. "A vacation in the Caribbean would be nice, wouldn't
it Honey?" Junior puts in his request for help in buying his dream car,
a red Camaro.
The nightmare begins about a month after the inauguration of the new
President. After being called into an emergency meeting, Dad learns he
is being "downsized" for the second time. His immediate superior, a man
with connections to the Chairman of the Board, a member of the Conservative
Right, breaks the news to about 2,000 employees at a teleconference meeting.
Layoffs will begin immediately for 40% of the workforce all over the country.
The company has had trouble meeting their earnings estimates. Although
sales revenues were up last year, the "slowing economy" requires management
to act to aggressively cut expenses so insure future earnings. Severance
packages will be given to all of those employees with 10 years or more
with the company. (That leaves Dad out, since he's only been with the
company for 5 1/2 years.) Benefits will be carried for 2 months. "Please
leave your security badges and washroom keys with the personnel staff
members on the way out the door, and good luck." Dad finds his way out
of the building and into the local bar, drowning his feeling of "why me"
On the same day, Mom gets home from work to find the electricity is off.
She finds the flashlight and checks the circuit breaker box only to find
that everything is in the ON position. She makes her way through the darkened
house to the telephone, calling the utility company to come and fix the
problem. "I'm sorry, ma'am. The problem is not in your home, or in the
electric lines. We are currently experiencing rolling blackouts." Rolling
blackouts? "Yes, ma'am. We currently don't have enough electricity to
provide for the demand, so we have had to institute periodic blackouts
of certain communities." So Mom sits in the dark, waiting for Dad to come
home. She also has to put up with the complaints of her teenage children
who don't know what to do with themselves without the television, computer,
stereo, video games and other toys that require electricity. It's a long
The family budget is tight in the next few months. Mom is the only bread-winner.
Dad searches in vain for a new job. The "recession" is preventing all
of the major companies from taking on new staff. Prices for all kinds
of goods are going up, making putting food on the table and paying the
skyrocketing utility bills almost impossible after the mortgage payments
on their beautiful house and two car payments. The two months of health
insurance has expired. Mom's job doesn't offer health insurance.
The kids are fed up with the restrictions that no spending money is having
on their lives. Junior starts talking back, refusing to do simple chores.
He locks himself in his room, talking on the phone to his new best buddy,
the current bad boy of the local high school. The daughter complains constantly
of having to wear last year's clothes.
One day, Mom receives a phone call from the school principal, asking
her to come to the school to pick up her daughter. Arriving at the school,
frantic with worry about some illness that may require hospitalization,
she is confronted with her tearful, yet perfectly healthy daughter. After
asking what the problem is, she is informed by the principal that her
daughter has been suspended for a week for being a "disciplinary" problem.
It seems that a refusal to recite the Ten Commandments in class is cause
for suspension. "The Ten Commandments? What do the Ten Commandments have
to do with school?" It seems that the school board has issued a resolution
that every student must be able to recite the Ten Commandments on demand
- or face disciplinary action. Mom is lectured about her parental responsibilities
to insure that her child "respects her elders". Shocked at the arrogance
of such a statement, Mom gathers up her daughter, informing the principal
that the girl did, indeed "respect" those deserving of it.
Extremely upset about the treatment of her daughter, Mom spends the next
week attempting to enroll her daughter at the local private school. Finding
the tuition ruinous, with scholarships available for only those families
with "assets" of less than $20,000, Mom is forced to return her daughter
to the public schools. The school voucher program that the new administration
has been touting as a way to give parents choices doesn't apply, since
this public school is not "failing", but one of the most respected in
the state. It just happens to be run by "Christians".
Dad's parents, in poor health and living on a small pension, are increasingly
unable to care for themselves. The prescription bills alone are eating
up 25% of their income. The health care reform packages proposed by the
new administration have been approved, but make little difference since
their income level is "above the minimum" required to qualify for assistance.
Unable to perform the daily tasks required to care for their small home,
they reluctantly decide to put it on the market, only to find that the
housing market is "depressed" and can't be sold for what they originally
spent. The home health care worker that is hired from the only agency
in town providing this service costs $18.00 per hour, and she refuses
to drive them to the grocery store or the doctor. The agency is run by
a local christian group. Dad and his brothers and sisters are pitching
in to help, but all have other responsibilities and can't provide the
24 hour care that is needed. After checking into the possibility of an
"assisted living" facility, the extended family finds that the cost is
beyond their means.
Mom and Dad begin to argue constantly, unable to cope with the stress
and sudden uncertainty of their lives. They begin to talk about having
to sell the house to make ends meet. The second car becomes a luxury and
is sold to a neighbor for barely enough to pay off the loan. The club
memberships, cell phones, pagers, and cable TV become things of the past.
Meanwhile, the economy begins to make a comeback. The fourth quarter
earnings results for the Fortune 500 companies are up 80%. But given the
fact that the Consumer Price Index has yet to reflect this turnaround,
expenses for the family continue to be a problem.
Soon, Dad is forced to take a job as a manager of the local retail outlet
store, part of a large chain of stores. He hates the hours, the loss of
control, and lack of "status". He becomes a regular at the local bar,
drowning his misery in alcohol and the company of others that complain
about their troubles.
Mom is tired of trying to keep the family afloat with little assistance
from anyone. She becomes increasingly bitter, snapping at the children,
and her husband when he is home. She watches the news and is disgusted
by the "spin doctors" and "experts" who are increasingly shrill about
what wonderful things the administration is doing for the "people".
The troubles of this typical family eventually end in divorce. The middle-class
lifestyle they enjoyed is gone. Their hope for the future becomes the
struggle to pay next months rent. Mom and Dad are uncomfortable with their
friends, family and neighbors, sensing the disapproval that comes with
the failure of their marriage. The children are bewildered and angry,
unable to comprehend what happened.
Mom finds some solace in becoming involved in several organizations that
are fighting to replace the current administration and legislature. She
finally realizes that speaking up for what you believe in is not just
the right thing to do, it's the only thing. Dad is reluctant to let go
of his long held conservative views, but as a result of all that has happened,
is beginning to consider the possibility that the promises of "compassionate
conservatism" are mostly lies. The children know that the phrase "let
no child be left behind" is an empty campaign slogan. They have been left
The next election is underway. How many typical families will now recognize
the importance of their right to vote?
Learn from this family's experience.