Commentary: Anger of the middle class is understandable

The passion, frustration and anger swelled in Debbie's voice as she talked on our flight from Kansas City to Charlotte, N.C.

It was fascinating to hear her accent flip from sweetly Southern to her native New York. She was returning home to Charlotte from a pharmaceutical sales training meeting in Overland Park, and I was headed east to see my older daughter and her husband’s new home.

On the flight, Debbie got me to understand middle America's frustration with President Obama, the angst over stimulus programs, the revolt against health care reform and disgust with public education.

At first, Debbie declined to talk politics, figuring it would get us thrown off the plane. We differed greatly, but our conversation was 100 percent civil. I understood where she was coming from. She wasn't much older than my daughters and she was in the early stages of her first pregnancy.

Debbie wants the best for her unborn child. She wants her kid to enter a world that is full of hope and promise and not one burdened with debt and doom.

Unfortunately, Obama's $787 billion stimulus program, added to the Bush administration's out-of-control spending, will balloon the U.S. debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019. Like a lot of Americans, Debbie, a former schoolteacher, said she and her husband were dismayed because they had done everything right.

They saved their pennies. They lived on a tight budget with no excesses. They paid cash for things and bought only what they could afford.

They built a house by the book, putting 20 percent down and had plenty in cash reserves for the unexpected. Their house also was reasonably sized and priced so if either of them became unemployed, they could still make their house payment.

So it angered Debbie to read of families with incomes of $60,000 getting homes valued at $500,000. She boiled over some first-time homebuyers purchasing million-dollar houses and receiving an $8,000 tax credit and then hated the program being extended. She chafed over schools being poorly funded. Stimulus programs are meant to help the economy, but kids aren’t being prepared for tomorrow's jobs.

The federal stimulus dollars that have shored up the banking and auto industries fit into the same growing ship that is sailing away with her child's future. It's corporate and individual welfare, and it has to stop.

The "cash for clunkers" program was no better. It spurred auto sales and buoyed otherwise stagnant economic indicators. But it stole from sales automakers and the economy might have enjoyed later.

The stimulus money for other programs was needed to slow the economy's free fall. Without it, the country and the world economies would have been far worse off.

Debbie likes none of the health care reform proposals. We can't afford it, she said.

I tried to explain that doing nothing isn't an option because health care costs will only increase. But Debbie worried about the country's 10 percent unemployment rate. Like many people, the trend has left her feeling unsettled and nervous about the stability of her job and the future she can provide for her new family.

I completely agreed. This recession — the worst the nation has experienced since the Great Depression — has touched nearly everyone in job losses, pay cuts, work hours slashed, savings and investment funds plundered, retirement accounts zapped, property values taking a dive and consumers deferring spending.

Like a lot of people, Debbie wants the free market to fix the economic mess. But I said unchecked capitalism combined with fear and greed was what caused us to be in this pickle.

Obama and Congress must put regulations in place to correct the problems that too-big-to-fail institutions caused. Working together, listening to the views of others, albeit different, will help America and the world solve the problems.

But the process begins with civility, as Debbie and I showed each other. Solutions and hope will follow on our flight to better times.