I was at a local Oktoberfest celebration this past weekend.  It was a great mix of people, really.  Professionals and laborers, kids and adults, young and old.  It was just like the emergency room where I work.  In fact, lots of the attendees were people I have seen as patients in the emergency department.  Oktoberfest was a little slower than in past years, possibly because of the economy, or the nearby Clemson University football game.  But it was still a fun-filled, thriving event.

Looking around, I noticed something interesting.  Cell-phones were everywhere.  All over the field, adults, teens and smaller children were talking or sending text-messages on cell-phones.  Not just well-dressed people who obviously had money.  It was everyone, right down to muscle shirt wearing guys, Disney character wearing children, grandmothers, grandfathers and high-school gals in mini-skirts.

And it hit me.  How bad is the economy if everyone has a cell-phone, and obviously has an unlimited text-message plan?  Mind you, many of them would never even consider paying for health insurance.  The ones with nice phones come to my ER and say, ‘my tooth hurts, but the dentist wants me to pay him, so I came here.’   Mind you also, many of them are seduced by the idea of ‘spreading the wealth around,’ as espoused by Sen. Obama.

But with so many Oktoberfest celebrants smoking cigarettes, buying beer and using cell-phones, with nice trucks parked outside in the parking lot, I have to ask, ‘just how bad is the economy?’  And then I have to ask, ‘just how much change do you really want with the next president?’  Are things so bad that we need a change?  And what change will we get?

(How about this change; instead of spreading wealth, let’s also spread cell-phone minutes and text messages.  Everyone share, say 35% of their cell-phone time with someone who can’t afford it.  If I suggested that at Oktoberfest, the results would have been worse than the rage I saw at ‘line-cutting.’ )

Mind you, there are some folks having a very tough time out there.  I know, because I meet them and try to help them.  I don’t doubt that.  And I hope we can, as a nation, get the economy going again.  But when cell-phones and their associated contracts can be the playthings of young people and the constant accessory of every adult, maybe things aren’t so bad that we need a change anyway!

We all know that humans can sometimes exaggerate their symptoms for secondary gain like narcotics, work-excuses or disability. Is it possible that some of the hue and cry over economic misery reflects the same disinformation?  Some pseudo-suffering in order to get more programs, more guarantees, more of a social safety-net?

Every time that I see a smirking teenage girl on state assistance, who is with her smirking teenage boyfriend, and they’re laughing with their parents about the baby she is now carrying in her academically unremarkable sophomore year, I think that maybe, just maybe, we do need some change.  But not the kind she, or he, will like.
I wonder.  Maybe I’m just a narrow-minded conservative.  But my stroll around Oktoberfest, and my 15 years of emergency medicine, conspire to suggest otherwise.

Call me names if you must.  But sometimes, the truth just plain hurts.

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