Today I will fly cross country to visit my ailing hero - my Grandpa.
Grandpa is my hero not because he will leave me a barely-used Cadillac when he passes, but because he double-mortgaged the house once so that I could have a 12 year-old Ford Ranger to get to college on a daily basis.
Grandpa is my hero not because he would hand over the check card when that Ranger acted up, but because he would slide his old man's body underneath it and turn wrenches until "that Detroit son of a bitch" ran smoothly again.
Grandpa is my hero not because he came home from work everyday in a suit and tie, wearing a fat smile and smelling like success, but because he would take off of his construction job early and drive an hour in a truck that had no third gear just to sit in the stands in his pit-stained work shirt to watch me lose a football game to country boys twice my size.
Grandpa is my hero not because he had money or success, but because he had heart and character.
After a hard day's work Grandpa would relax by sitting on the front porch of our old Polish brick duplex on the south-side of Milwaukee, drinking a Pabst and "shooting the s***" with me or anyone else who would sit out there with him. It was a pleasure. Those were the best days of my young life.
Now Grandpa lives in a retirement community in Florida where the elderly flock like seagulls to a touristy spot on the beach.
Now Grandpa is fighting the battle of his life on the shores of the sunshine state instead of the shores of Korea.
Now Grandpa relies on the government to take care of his medical needs, to pay his bills and fill his prescriptions. Grandpa has earned that right.
Grandpa is not rich - He never saved enough money to help me buy books for college or buy me a new catcher's glove when mine tore in the middle of my senior year, but because a man is financially poor does not mean that he should live his last days in squalor and without adequate care.
Thank God Grandpa served his two years in the Army so that the VA is helping to take care of his health care in the sunset of his life.
Thank God Medicare is still around in its current form so that he doesn't have to empty what little there is in his savings account or borrow from family to pay for his surgeries.
Thank God Paul Ryan's changes to Medicare were voted down in his budget proposal.
It doesn't bother me at all that money is taken out of my paycheck to pay for my Grandpa's care or the care of others who no longer have the financial means to fend for themselves.
What does bother me is that people of means like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney want to privatize Medicare, put a tight cap on its benefits and let the seniors pay the rest out-of-pocket.
Most studies show that Medicare will immediately cost seniors an extra $6,400 per year out-of-pocket for less care under Paul Ryan's version of the program. My Grandpa, who worked his ass off for 50 years has some lint, a pair of car keys and a handkerchief in his pocket - no more money.
Medicare is not a "boondoggle" like Paul Ryan has called it. Social Security, which my Grandpa also lives off of is not a "Ponzi scheme" as Ryan has claimed it to be.
These people - people like my Grandpa have paid their money into the system through a lifetime of sweat and labor and now wealthy one-percenters like Ryan and Romney want to take away these social safety nets for the rest of us. I understand that people of means don't need social security or medicare, but damn it, most of us will, whether we want to admit it or not.
Before Medicare was enacted by LBJ 80% of all seniors lived in poverty. Now less than 16% live in poverty. Take Social Security and Medicare away and watch the number of elderly living in poverty sky rocket again. Take away pensions and increase health premiums, and watch Wall Street gamble away our 401K and that number will be astronomical by the time I am living in Florida.
I don't want any senior who has worked their whole life, or raised a family their whole life to worry about having enough money in their savings to cover their out-of-pocket expenses for end-of-life care.
Someone on their final years of life should be worrying about how often they will be seeing their grandchildren or traveling to places they've never seen instead of worrying if they can cover their prescription drugs this month. No one should have to choose between a bottle of pills for a trip to the grocery store - but that is exactly what is already happening now and it will only get worse under Ryan's austerity programs.
When it is his time, Grandpa will travel somewhere he has never seen before, but until then he needs to spend time with family "shooting the s***" on his screened in "Florida" room in his house in well - Florida, talking to us about the hundreds of little league games and birthdays, and dozens of graduations he has seen over the years...
...Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney seem to think that the elderly and their loved ones should spend their last days sitting around the kitchen table, scouring through family checkbooks and savings accounts to figure out ways to scrap together the thousands of dollars needed for Grandpa's next surgery.
The only thing I want to do while seated at Grandpa's kitchen table this week is play cards, drink Pabst, listen to stories about the '58 Buick he used to own and family road trips involving little kids who I only know as adults.
Grandpa is not perfect: He thinks beer is a nutritional supplement and he couldn't tell you the difference between John Lennon and Vladimir Lenin, but damn it - Grandpa has earned the right to have a decent safety net because Grandpa spent the younger years of his life being a Working Class Hero. He cared more about the needs of those around him than himself. His life savings went into second-hand cars to get people to work and school so that they could have a better shot in life than he did.
There are people right now doing the same thing - working two jobs, trying to put everything extra away for the rising cost of college for their own kids. They will likely end up like my Grandpa, poor in funds, but rich in love and respect.
In my book, people like Paul Ryan (who paid for college with his father's social security survivor benefits) and Mitt Romney (trust fund baby) who want to take away our social safety nets so that corporations and wealthy stock holders can pay lower taxes are Upper Class Zeroes who are rich in material wealth, but who are absolutely morally bankrupt.
Conservatives like Scott Walker and Ron Johnson will tell you that Paul Ryan was "courageous" for trying to take up a plan to diminish the cost of implementing our social safety nets.
But I think there is nothing courageous about taking away from the poor and the elderly. There is nothing courageous about giving tax breaks to millionaires, stock holders and corporations while increasing the medical expenses of the sick and the old.
My Grandpa was a courageous person because he gave when he had nothing to give. We need to be just as courageous and keep Social Security and Medicare strong, even when our pay checks are less than ideal.
I love you Grandpa. Thank you for working so hard your whole life. Thank you for being the most courageous and generous person I have ever known.