The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

Last night, a salesman from an insulation contractor came to our house to give us an estimate on new attic insulation.  The salesman - a burly, thirtyish, good-natured man - arrived about 20 minutes late to the appointment but seemed so stressed out we did not mention his lateness.  My young daughter was fascinated by the process and it turned out her name was the same as his daughter’s - a one-year-old of whom he was obviously very proud.  After inspecting the attic and giving us an estimate, I told him my wife and I would have to talk about whether we wanted to spend the money on insulation right now.  I explained that, like a lot of people, we were trying to spend money more wisely and couldn’t commit to a big expenditure without making sure it fit our budget.  The salesman said he understood.

The salesman asked what I did, and I told him I was a lawyer.  He made a mild lawyer joke, and then mentioned sheepishly that he was going to see a lawyer tomorrow.

It turned out that, while she was pregnant with his daughter, the salesman’s wife’s water broke in the fifth month.  She did not deliver, but was confined to bed rest for two months, delivering her daughter in the seventh month.  When she was born, the girl weighed less than two pounds, and spent a number of weeks in the hospital.  The salesman’s insurance, for whatever reason, did not fully cover much of the expenses, and he was deeply in debt.  He was seeing the lawyer the next day, he said, because he wanted to declare bankruptcy.  He had not made a house payment in months, he admitted, and he could no longer take the stress.
Before he left, the salesman stressed that a new federal program would give us a 30% tax credit on the cost of the insulation, and he noted that a lot of people were getting insulation exactly because of this program.   He told us, as he was leaving, that he had a long drive ahead of him – he and his wife lived in a distant exurb of the city – the kind of place where a lot of homeowners are finding themselves underwater on their mortgages.
My wife and I are likely going to get the insulation, because, especially with the tax credit, it will start saving us money within two or three years.   But it also feels good that we might be helping this guy, too, who certainly needs it and seemed like a thoroughly decent man in a bad spot.
The meeting made me think of politics, too.  Twenty or thirty years ago, this guy likely would have been part of the Republican base – a white guy, in sales, with a family, living in an swing state exurb.  That was the core of the Republican base.   Today, he needs bankruptcy protection and relief from his underwater mortgage, he certainly understands the value of a health care safety net, and a green government program is helping him make sales.   Obama is offering this guy something.  What are the Republicans offering him?   Until they figure that out – and they don’t seem close to it – they will continue to lose.