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In case you've never heard of a retirement community in Florida called The Villages, it's a destination plot for Midwesterners who want to sit back and enjoy life, and on most weekends, act like teenagers. Some of my friends from high school live there, including my cousin, Eddie, whose wife died several years ago from a massive stroke. Eddie describes his life now in what could be termed a steroidal wish fulfillment of those Saturday nights when we wrestled with our dates at the drive-in movies back home.
The Villages is one of the strangest environments I have ever encountered. It eerily resembles the totalitarian and idyllic setting of the Patrick McGoohan T.V. series, "The Prisoner"---which was based in a fictional town/resort known as---you guessed it---The Village. Words have failed to describe the Villages in Florida until the recent appearance of an article by Michael Van Sickler in the Sunday Tampa Bay Times. (link in comment below) It is delicious reading. The writer describes the very much in control Republican owner of the Villages and his attendant bastion of forty thousand reliable Republican voter/residents. As goes cousin Eddie and the Villages so goes the Ryan/Romney ticket in Florida.
I want to call cousin Eddie, a Baptist, and needle him with, "So Eddie, how is the Mormon, Catholic, Medicare Voucher Republican ticket working out for you?". I won't ask of course but I do wonder how the Ryan Medicare Voucher might raise doubt about the election in Eddie's mind, and possibly in the minds of some Republicans as well.
Contrary to perceptions the vast number of folks at the Villages cannot swing a $1 million house. And to say that Medicare and Social Security play a huge role in the retirement economics of most residents in the Villages is a serious understatement. Cousin Eddie is decidedly middle class and he is the walking definition of a Reagan Democrat. I'd say his digs cost him around $200 K, which is a step up from entry level--well designed pre-manufactured homes on small lots. In 2009, median income was $50K and median home price was $260 K, with property taxes at $2000 a year. Overall, the houses are terriffic and so are the people---individually, that is, and without their political party uniforms. But then there is the owner guy with his Cayman Island registered yacht and his absolute control of everything outside the houses themselves. It's a company owned town which in effect, elected George Bush in 2000.
If you take a median income of $50 K and figure up what you have left after paying Federal taxes, plus normal household expenses of food, car maintenance, utilities and insurance, property taxes, the annual summer trip back up North and possibly a fishing trip or two, there is not much money left over. Don't forget that most of the folks will also be paying supplemental Medicare insurance in the range of $2K a year. Did I mention trips to the Dentist?
I think it's clear that any tinkering around with either Social Security or Medicare, or for that matter letting the Bush tax cuts expire, could have an enormous effect on a $50 K a year budget. Obviously Social Security payments make up a large chunk of the $50 K income. And it's not just the residents. A great deal of the infrastructure around Florida relates to medical services.
Of course, the Ryan voucher plan is supposed to affect only those under 55. And also, Romney will be running away from the Ryan voucher plan as fast as Obama will be hanging it around his neck. So presumably, cousin Eddie and most of the Villagers would be protected from any changes Romney and Ryan might have in store for those under 55. But you have to wonder how far a far right economic team would really go if given a blank check. Will the Reagan Democrats see a long term risk to their way of life?
I remember one of my visits to the Villages when cousin Eddie was seriously trying to interest me in buying a house. We had an appointment on Saturday morning with a single, perky real estate agent named Sarah who was scheduled to show me around the place, organized around mini-communities, golf courses and the famous "town squares". Loud speakers continuously flood the town squares with music, punctuated with Fox News updates, and in this particular case, a full half hour Paul Harvey show. I was trying to kid around with the agent and I asked if Democrats were allowed to buy houses there. Without a smile Sarah told me, "This is Bush country". Well, I wasn't ever going to buy a house there anyway and I already had the creeps from the prison yard loud speakers. Thus ended a quick tour of a couple of condos at the Villages.
Romney will no doubt visit the Villages again, the site of his recent famous singing debut. I wonder if Romney will be able to placate the kind folks of the Villages about that whipper-snapper Ryan's youthful exuberance about a voucher plan---and I promise it's not going to happen (gee, that sounds familiar). I wonder if the residents there, sitting in the golf course club houses watching Fox News over a hamburger and fries, will give a single thought to any threats to their incomes and medical benefits based on a Ryan/Romney election win. Probably not, life is too good there.
And will Paul Ryan himself go to the villages? I doubt it, but if he does I'm going to go back there and visit Eddie because it would be real theater. And I could check out the new, post crash, housing prices and maybe take in happy hour with my old friends or even go to a sock hop in the town square under the company's flood lights and ubiquitous loud speakers.