Hard to Get Teary-Eyed Over Financial Troubles of Ed McMahon

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In these days of economic hardship and mounting pressure of foreclosures, rising gas prices, etc. there are many stories that tug at our heart strings.  The self-inflicted financial woes of former Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon fail to rise to that level.  Ed has gone public with his appeal for public compassion as he tries to paint his plight in the same hue as the hard luck stories of the common man.  True he is having difficulty meeting his house payments; but the parallel stops there.

Here is one account of his situation:

Ed, who was a staple on television for over 30 years, is facing foreclosure on his multimillion-dollar home in Beverly Hills if he cannot find a buyer. Ed and his third wife Pam are over half a million dollars behind in the mortgage. How can a celebrity of Ed’s stature not be able to make the rent? Ed, who is now 85 years old, blames it on the bad economy, bad financial planning, and bad luck (he broke his neck 18 months ago and cannot work because of it). In addition, he had to pay two ex-wives.

Maybe there should be some accountability for foolish living and irresponsible behavior. Are we a nation that should be expected to bail out people who have been blessed with every opportunity and still find a way to self destruct? I am not denying that some unforeseen circumstances have certainly played a major role in compounding his present pressures, but that is not the whole story.

Journalist Glenn Beck writing for CNN added some more details to the story to help mitigate the outpouring of compassionate Americans who somehow identified with McMahon’s debt as if it were representative of the thousands of other distressed families facing foreclosure:

McMahon explained that, despite earning millions during his career, he is now about $644,000 behind on his mortgage payments. Foreclosure, he said, is now a real possibility.

It was a pretty shocking revelation, and it generated a typical American response: overwhelming generosity. Within minutes of McMahon’s admission, a caller was on the phone wondering how he could donate. McMahon went on to say that “wonderful things have happened” recently, and he’s now optimistic that the house will sell.

That’s great news, but lost in the outpouring of compassion is a hard look at the very thing at the center of the problem: the McMahon McMansion itself.

Listed at $6.25 million, the house is a six-bedroom, five-bathroom, 7,000-square-foot Beverly Hills estate. It’s in The Summit, a gated hilltop community off Mulholland Drive. Britney Spears is among the celebrities who live in the area.

McMahon bought the house in January 1990 and, despite Los Angeles home prices being up 106 percent since then, reportedly still owes about $5 million on it. In other words, like so many other Americans, McMahon used his home as an ATM over the years. But unlike most other Americans, a sale at his asking price would allow him to pay off his lenders and still pocket several hundred thousand dollars.

None of that means McMahon’s problems aren’t important or relevant; it’s just that we need to have some perspective. A celebrity who’s made millions of dollars, won a $7.2 million legal settlement and owns, at least on paper, a home that has more than doubled in value, should not be the person who “humanizes” the problem for us.

A lot of people hear the word “foreclosure” and immediately picture a family living in an alleyway or in a city shelter, but that’s not usually the reality. Take the McMahons, for instance. In a worst-case scenario, they would probably end up renting a luxury condo nicer than what 99.9% of Americans will ever live in. Is that ideal? No. Would their credit score be dinged up a bit? Sure. But is it really the terrifying scenario that most of us imagine?

Again, I’m not trying to beat up on McMahon here; it’s just that he represents how people put compassion ahead of common sense. Compassion makes you want everyone to keep their homes and live happily ever after. Common sense tells you that your donation will do nothing to make that happen. Besides, is donating money to help keep a celebrity out of a luxury condo really the best use of your charity dollars?

Glenn goes on to point out the absurdity of the government setting up relief programs to bail people out of their irresponsible or at least unwise mortgage decisions.

Do we need to help the people who would legitimately be out on the street if they lost their home? Absolutely. But those programs are already in place. We have strict bankruptcy laws, unemployment benefits, welfare programs and health care plans — all financed by taxpayers.

Why should there be a taxpayer-funded mortgage bailout program on top of it all?

Whether one person loses a home, or a million do, it isn’t a tragedy, it’s a lesson. And like all lessons, we can learn from it.

Once again I recommend the time-tested Book of Proverbs for simple guidelines about wise living. Start with the problem of the failed marriages and then move on to the life of selfish indulgence and disregard of the “fear of the Lord” which is the beginning of wisdom. It should be no surprise how such a story plays out. Fortunately for Mr. McMahon he gets a taste of reality in this life to help prepare for that final accountability we all face. It won’t be all laughs and giggles at the final judgment day. Forgiveness and new life are available through Jesus Christ, but there must be a repentant spirit that wants to turn away from selfishness and materialism and embrace the Savior.

I heartily recommend to Mr. McMahon the Sunday School series we just completed on the Book of Ecclesiastes — patterned after Swindoll’s commentary: Living on the Ragged Edge. The sad truth is that without any fundamental change of new spiritual life the final demise will be far worse than the immediate pressures recounted above. As much as Americans love a happy ending, the harsh reality is that there is no hope apart from Christ.