and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
February #3

Now that I'm old, I'll do what I want
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, February 21, 2008

When I am old I shall wear purple ...
and be what I am and do what I please.

The original poem by Jenny Joseph starts "Warning. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

The similar thought above was on a greeting card that my son gave me when I was still middle-aged; I framed it and allowed it to validate my natural, lifelong inclination to do whatever I want. Now that I am 65 and actually old, my attitude is already worn and comfortable.

I've always liked purple, but don't care for hats. However, my conservative first husband sent me a red baseball cap with a big W on the front, for W ketchup a condiment that was popular at Republican picnics in Texas while John Kerry of the Heinz catsup fortune was running against George W. Bush.

So you might see me around town in a purple shirt and a red W cap. Just don't take the latter as a political statement; I have withdrawn from presidential politics until I must vote for someone in November. I mean, what was I doing driving to New Hampshire and making Massachusetts phone calls for Mitt Romney just to have him tell us last week that John McCain will be a fine president? Why didn't we just skip the primary hassle?

I'm sure there's a good reason why these endorsements are done: good sportsmanship, party unity, all that political nonsense that doesn't go and doesn't suit me. The Catholic school nuns had a better plan: Tell the truth and shame the devil.

OK, once in my career as a political activist I did that good sport thing, after we lost the 1990 ballot campaign to repeal the Dukakis tax hikes. Shocked that the voters were willing to put up with so much government abuse, I intended to say "what, are you nuts?" but cooler heads prevailed. I smiled instead and congratulated our opponents, the public employee unions who still enjoy the fruits of the tax increases in extraordinary pensions and health insurance benefits.

Henry David Thoreau was right: "The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me, that I behaved so well?"

Now I'm going to get mine back. I am signed up for Medicare and am taking Social Security one year early. I suppose I could retire if I wanted to a live a very Thoreau-simple life in a one-room cabin, but since I prefer to keep my five-room house I must continue to be a taxpayer activist in defense of Proposition 21/2.

Last week the House passed a bill to allow communities to give certain senior citizens an abatement of future Prop 21/2 overrides, in the hope that seniors will stay at home and allow the overrides to pass. We can hope that the Senate isn't going to do this favor for former House member David Cohen, now mayor of Newton and looking for an override while he builds a $200 million high school.

Seniors: Even if you are the kind of person who wouldn't mind letting young families and unemployed people pay some of "your share," be warned: the abatement is not guaranteed beyond that first year. You could end up paying "your share" of higher property taxes yourself, if the overrides pass without senior opposition.

As a political activist, I always counted on senior citizens. They were "the greatest generation," hard-working proponents of traditional cultural values, personal responsibility, patriotism and common sense. Even the self-defined liberal seniors could usually see through political baloney, simply because they'd observed and experienced it for so many years.

Maybe it wasn't so much age as time and place in history. Perhaps my age group, followed closely by the boomers, carries a different slate of values with us into seniorhood. But listening to much older seniors resisting testing to determine driving ability, while younger drivers insist they have a right to talk on cell phones while driving, I wonder: are Americans in general just no longer pretending to be unselfish? So what if your reaction time is slipping and your phone brain is disengaged from the highway: you have a right to drive impaired, and if innocent people are injured or die, it's your fault but not your problem.

As an official senior now since Sunday, I look forward to a decade of getting my and my employers' Social Security payments back (I count not just the withheld funds but estimate the interest I could have gotten if I'd invested or saved them myself). I'll probably use up the Medicare payments in a much shorter time. But I'll still get senior discounts, including, incredibly, a discount on my auto insurance, at least until I drive through a restaurant window and wipe out full-price diners.

Now that I'm old I shall wear purple, be what I am and do what I please. Happy birthday to me!

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.