Political discussions often lead to heated debate, anger, and hurt feelings. However, with this upcoming election coming at a time when the country has so much at stake, it is difficult to resist political discussion in any setting, be it work, golf, in the gym, and of course here in this blog. While I ventured to broach some political issues in previous posts this year, one criticising government bipartisanly gouging small business, and one exposing Sarah Palin's abysmal wildlife record, I touched on where my support was leaning in this election, while falling short of a full out endorsement. In this post there will be no question where my allegiance lies in this election, but for the sake of this blog's integrity and audience, I will my views based on how political implications have and will continue to impact my life as a veterinarian.
In the early years of my career as an undergraduate biochemistry student working part time as a veterinary assistant right smack in the middle of the Clinton years, I witnessed a monumental change in veterinary medicine. With the prosperity and dramatic increase in mean income of the 1990s, people increasingly began to have the disposable income to focus on the family pet's health care. As a result, the profession improved with an increased ability to pursue aggressive and comprehensive diagnostic work-ups and treatments.
Veterinarians became more medically and surgically savvy, the additional revenue that this paradigm shift created increased veterinary hospital employee benefits, mean income, and as a result attracted higher quality staff. This combination of pet owner willingness, better diagnostics, treatments, and quality staff, meant better health care standards and quality of life for family pets, considered by many as cherished family members.
Personally, I had received a small inheritance as a young man, a helpful but modest sum of money. But because it was conservatively invested in the greatest bull stock market our country had ever known, that modest amount was stretched considerably to pay for undergraduate college (including a summer trip to Europe), a car that I drove for 8 years, a portion of vet school, and ultimately there was just enough left to purchase my wife's engagement ring.
Through my tenure as a veterinary student and during the early few years of my career, I continued to see the profession get better in all the ways I described before. Working in this environment and being subsequently able to practice a high level of medicine was extremely gratifying. This unfortunately was not to last, as around the middle of 2003 I began to witness a downturn in pet owners willingness to place pet health care among their higher financial priorities.
This was not a yet devastating reality at the time, not yet leading to losses, but instead a slowing or at worst, plateau effect in practice growth. The decreasing willingness to pursue high standard pet health care continued, however, by 2006 even deteriorating into outright cynicism from some pet owners presented with work-up and treatment estimates. Most scarily, we have seen our daily deposits which traditionally break down as 60% credit cards to 40% cash (or check), transform to 90%credit cards to 10% cash. It saddens me a great deal to see these good people still have the dedication to care for their animals but clearly no longer wield the disposable income to match their determination.
The good people in question, are the middle class, the biggest supporters and patrons of small business, and the group that has suffered the most under republican rule. Under Bush, we saw tax cuts that amounted to very little for the middle class, but provided billions in tax relief to the country's wealthiest corporations. Rather than use their gift from Bush to create jobs and uplift their eomployees letting that wealth trickle down as the republicans like to say, they instead stuffed the pockets of CEOs, shipped jobs overseas, and squandered employee pensions. The banking industry finally placed the icing on the cake, when massive republican sponsored deregulation helped pave the way for collosal Wall Street abuse that has led to our current credit crisis.
George Bush's abysmal economic policies and complete lack of regard for the middle class, a class of hard working, strong valued, decent Americans that are the life blood of small business, has created dire consequences that I see examples of every day. No longer is the middle class fallout a phenomena that we read about or fear the coming of - it has arrived, it is real, and it is in our faces every day.
Not only do I feel great sorrow for many of my clients that have been hit hard financially (many of whom are families that I have come to care deeply about), this economic disaster that George Bush has driven us into has compromised the very people I rely on for the existence of my business. He has created a chain effect that has the potential to compromise my business and its 8 other staff members. Without the middle class there is no Maybeck Animal Hospital.
In my years in the profession, I have witnessed the impact of how the financial health of the middle class supported by compassion and sound economic policy in the White House can uplift and bolster veterinary medicine; and how the exact opposite can occur under White House leadership that is rampant with greed, corruption, and gross incompetence. I have seen how a President who supports the free market and capitalism, but with proper regulation and oversight, can create a healthy investment environment; and how a President that lets big business have its way without oversight and regulation can create and environment where investing holds worse odds than Las Vegas. The current administration's blatant forsaking of the middle class while steadfastly pledging undying support for abusive big business is unconscionable.
And now the current republican presidential candidate who voted 95% of the time in lock step with George Bush (and bragged about this fact during the primaries) and has still yet to display one significant way in which he differs economically from George Bush, is trying to convince me that small business should fear a Barack Obama presidency? I am supposed to fear a man whose main tenant is support of the middle class, providing tax cuts for 95% of Americans and promising to not raise taxes on anyone making $250,000 per year or less?
Let's talk about health care. One aspect of my hospital policy that I hold dear is providing health care benefits for my employees and their families. John McCain's health plan is to provide a $5000 tax credit to put toward health insurance, but will in turn tax employer provided health benefits as income. Doing the math for all my employees, the tax credit makes some of them at best have the tax credit negated by the tax on their health benefits, while some of the employees actually end up paying more money to the government (in my case, for example, I would owe the government $1800 more).
Barack Obama by contrast, plans to provide my company with a 50% tax credit on the benefits I provide for my employees, freeing up money for equipment upgrades, staff and doctor continuing education, and better employee salaries and bonuses. Clearly, Barack Obama is not the candidate for a small business owner to fear. Indeed, John McCain with a health care policy that is even more tragically flawed than his economic vision, is the candidate in this election that small business owners should be running scared from.
That said, I am not so naive to think that Barack Obama is going to fly in on his unicorn and create an economic utopia with the wave of a wand. Thanks to his predecessor, he will be left with a dire economic reality, record deficits, and an oppressively expensive war to contend with, which may force his hand to dismiss or at least delay some of the programs on his wish list. But having a campaign that has been focused on the health of the base of small business, the middle class, I see a consistent and unwavering message that he will focus on looking after the great Americans that are the driving force of our nation and who I am proud to call my client base. By contrast, all I see from John McCain's campaign is a consistent and unwavering determination to vilely attack his opponent, trying to win our vote not on substance, sound policy, or concern for the middle class, but instead by trying to convince us that we should fear or distrust Barack Obama.
I have already casted my vote for Barack Obama. If you are a member of the middle class, a small business owner, or or simply care about the wellbeing of your country, you would be wise to do the same.
Roger Welton, DVM