Mourning in America

Spend any time in a coffee shop or popular local breakfast spot and you hear a lot of doom and gloom about the future of America.

This country is in trouble, there’s no doubt on that issue. My local eatery is filled with people scanning the want ads of newspapers or talking with others about the jobs they lost and the bills they can’t pay.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may tell us the recession is over but that doesn’t ring true with the millions of Americans out of work and losing their homes.

My wife and I fell victim to the economic downturn last week when we made the painful decision to close our studio and gallery in the Southwestern Virginia town where we moved in 2004. We’ve started, and closed, two businesses here since leaving Washington.

Two is enough. The day after we decided to close the business, I went online to the Social Security Administration web site and filed for Social Security. My benefits start in January. Given our earnings this past year, that monthly benefit will be a pay increase.

For too many, the American dream is now a nightmare. Savings accounts are gone. Retirement programs too. A future that once looked promising now looms dark and foreboding.

Many blame George W. Bush and the many misdeeds of his administration for our current mess. Some blame current President Barack Obama. Some point blame all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Dusting off my high school Shakespeare, I think the answer lies not with our leaders but within ourselves. We can point fingers until the cows come home but the real blame lies with each of us.

Amy and I have enjoyed many good years during our 30 years of marriage. I’ve enjoyed a good career in both journalism and politics. I’ve made — and spent — a lot of money, some of it wisely but a lot foolishly. We didn’t need to own two Porsches but — at one time — we did. We didn’t need lavish vacations in exotic hideaways but we took them anyway and spent more for two weeks of pleasure than many Americans make in a year.

Like too many others, we enjoyed the fruits of the “good life” and now the bill has come due. We spent, we squandered. We wasted. We thought we had planned for the future but we risked that nest egg to start two new businesses. Both failed.

We aren’t alone. Too many Americans lived beyond their means for too long.

Yes, the banks made it easy to fall into the excessive consumerism trap with easy credit, no-disclosure loans and loan shark techniques but the final decision to sign and spend fell on each of us.

Earlier this month, I told the volunteer staff at Capitol Hill Blue that I might have to shut the web site down because I could no longer afford to supplement the expenses not covered by ads. We talked about asking readers for donations and, for a short time on Sunday, I posted a notice on Capitol Hill Blue telling readers that this web site could not survive without their help and asked for donations. But I took the notice down.

I’m not wired to beg for donations. I’m not the type to ask others for a bailout. If Capitol Hill Blue is to survive, It should do so because I should be able to find a way to keep it on the Web without depending on you, the readers, to come riding to the rescue. It’s not your responsibility to make this web site work. It’s mine.

However, I’m not a fool. If some readers want to help, I’m grateful and will accept it. Some have told me that I should accept donations and I appreciate the fact that some are willing to do what they can to keep CHB afloat during these difficult times.

But Capitol Hill Blue will not fall victim to the economy. I’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into this web site over the past decade-and-a-half and I’m not about to write that kind of investment off. CHB will not fade into oblivion. We celebrate 15 years on the Internet on October 1 and I expect to celebrate many more birthdays in the years to come.

We’re here to stay. To hell with the naysayers and the doomsdayers. We’re just getting started.

Update: 4:45 p.m. OK. Several readers have suggested that it’s downright hypocritical of me to say I don’t need help and then provide a “donate” button to accept it. I’m sorry for the confusion. This is very difficult for me. Yes, we can use all the help we can get but I’m a proud man and asking for such help is not easy. I’ve often been hypercritical of web sites that ask for donations. Now I understand why some do. I will do everything I can to keep this web site on the Web and help from our readers will certainly help me accomplish that goal.

Update: 9:01 a.m. A number of readers have contacted me via email or phone and asked how they can contribute to help Capitol Hill Blue out at this difficult time. I appreciate the offers of support and will accept donations through our Blue Ridge Photography PayPal account or you can send donations by check to:

Blue Ridge Photography
PO Box 67
Floyd, VA 24091

Please make the checks out to “Blue Ridge Photography.” All expenses for Capitol Hill Blue are paid through that account.

Thank you for your generous offers of help. You can contribute via PayPal by clicking on the “Donate” button below: