I drove over to the Park District office on April 5 and bought my season pass for the pool. With the senior citizen and early purchase discounts, it cost me $35.
What a deal! I think of it as a three month Caribbean cruise without leaving home. Four or five times a week in the summer, I work until about 3 in the afternoon, change into my swimming suit, take the five minute drive to the park, dive into the refreshing water, swim a third of a mile and then lounge on the deck for 20 minutes. Often I see friends and neighbors with whom I chat for another 10 minutes.
It’s cheaper than a cruise with Princess. You don’t have to buy a new wardrobe, and there’s no airline ticket to pay for. OK, there’s no food available 24 hours a day at the buffet table, but then again, do I need to pack on another 10 pounds?
I bring up the subject of the pool, because I’ve heard the word “socialism” thrown around irresponsibly, in my opinion, a lot lately in regard to increasing taxes to pay for increased services. The protestors are often people who are affluent enough to pay for a membership at a health club. They don’t need a public swimming pool.
If you press them, these folks will admit that the new health care law, for example, isn’t really socialism. “But,” they quickly add, “it is a couple steps closer on a slippery slope to a situation in which the government will run our lives. We already work something like five months a year to pay for all the taxes the government imposes on us.”
When I was a kid in the 1960s, the local John Birch Society labeled a proposal to add fluoride to our city’s drinking water a communist plot. For the Birchers any increase in the size of government was a communist plot.
Back then the John Birch Society and right now the Tea Party have a little bit of a point. The $35 I spent on my pool pass doesn’t come close to paying for the services I receive. The permanent park staff salaries get paid for with taxes we have already sent in. The land was purchased with public money as will the Roos property once we get people in Springfield to straighten out some technicalities. The police officer who keeps a watchful eye out for trouble makers is paid for with our tax money. So are the streets on which I drive to get there.
So, in a sense, all of you are subsidizing my Caribbean vacation. But I’m helping to pay for your ambulance ride to the hospital when you had that heart attack, and I’m contributing money to the school to which you send your child.
What’s underneath a lot of the debate is a fundamental difference in the way people look at the world, a difference between seeing life in terms of mine or ours. President Bush, the younger, used to justify tax cuts by saying that “it’s your money,” as if you alone were the one who earned it. As if you were the one responsible for being born with a good mind and a healthy body, for attending good schools and receiving decent parenting. As if you were the one who decided to be born in a country with so much opportunity, not withstanding the hard times we’re going through. As if people in Haiti who make a few bucks a month don’t work as hard as you do.
I’m all for requiring that people take individual responsibility for their lives, but since my neurological disorder has put me on disability, I have come to recognize the limits of thinking that everyone has an equal chance in life.
I hope you don’t resent that I get the good parking places marked with the blue wheelchair. I don’t mind paying property taxes to help fund the schools your children go to. The way I look at it, it’s not my town. It’s our town. In my opinion, my quality of life is inextricably intertwined with yours.
If that’s socialism, I’m all for it.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.