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Looks good at first, but the deal's a real clunker

Timing, so they say, is everything - and boy is mine bad.

We built the house in which we live, for example, about 20 years ago - give or take a mortgage rate adjustment or two - and every month, just like clockwork, have made a house payment. And because we bought our house 20 or so years ago, we had to settle for a house we could actually afford.

I still remember the day we went into the Citizen and Southern Bank to apply for our loan. The afternoon shock jock on WSB - what was that guy's name anyway? - had just presented "irrefutable proof" that Elvis Presley was alive and planning a big comeback performance. That's all I could talk about when we sat down with the loan officer, and my lovely wife Lisa was afraid that we would be denied a loan because I was insane.

But we got the loan - for an amount we could afford - and have dutifully made our payments ever since.

If we had been buying our house a couple of decades later, the sky would have been the limit. We could have moved into a palatial mansion. If we couldn't afford the payments, so what? The government would declare the lending institution predatory for loaning us more money than we ever hope to repay. They would force the institution to renegotiate the loan and lower our payments and ignore the fact that we were two or three months behind.

It's a great country, isn't it? And timing is everything.

Last May, I broke down and bought a new car. My old Dodge Caravan was on its last legs - or wheels, I should say. It had a ton of miles on it - we had driven across the country twice and to more than a hundred Georgia Bulldog games, including three Sugar Bowls - and two dozen trips to the beach. My beautiful and talented youngest child, Jenna, had put a $4,000 scratch on the back fender, which, ironically, was the actual retail value of the car itself - according to that guy Kelly and his blue book. Or at least $4,000 would have been the value of the car if it hadn't been used in a spontaneous crash test.

You should see the tree.

We drove the car wrecked for about 15 months, but then the air conditioner went out and the brakes quit working (sorry, Matt. I meant to tell you about that), and so I bit the bullet and "traded" my van for a new one.

Ostensibly, the good folks at Ginn allowed me $1,000 for my car, but if you've ever traded cars - and who hasn't? - you know how that works. My car was a clunker, understand. Every time I filled up the gas tank I doubled the vehicle's value.

But if I only waited a few months - just a few short months - I could have made $4,500 at the expense of the United States government. That's right. I missed the "Cash for Clunkers" program by about 90 days.

What a concept! What a grand idea! It rates right up there with the Office of Economic Opportunity in my book. We need to help the car industry because, after all, we the people are now in the car business, so the Congress of the United States - our duly elected representatives - have appropriated several billion dollars to be used, at up to $4,500 a pop, to alleviate the pain of a new car purchase.

If you have a clunker - an older car that gets poor gas mileage - and trade it in on a new car that gets significantly better gas mileage, we the people will spot you nearly five grand toward your purchase. Heck of deal! And it's win, win, win. The car industry is stimulated, folks get shiny new cars, and we are saving fuel because everyone is getting better gas mileage.

Imagine - a government plan with no downside. And I missed out. Again. Timing is everything.

No downside? Well, there are the billions of dollars that the government is investing in the program, and the thing is the government doesn't really have billions of dollars. In fact, the government doesn't have any money at all, except for what it confiscates from its citizens. If you are reading this, I would guess that you are a citizen - and probably a taxpayer.

I don't know about you, but I, for one, am about taxed out. I can't afford to subsidize the banking industry, I can't afford to subsidize the automobile industry, I can't afford to provide health care for 300 million people - many of whom are here illegally, by the way - and I cannot afford to pay a $4,500 down payment on another new car.

Timing is everything, and it will be time for another election in this country is in 15 months. The entire Congress and one-third of the Senate will stand for re-election.

I just hope it's not too late.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.