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Don't Poke Sleeping Bears With A Stick

Friday, February 13, 2009
It's essential to compromise in politics, to accept quarter-loaves. It's why the political art is best practiced by adults - and by that I mean real adults, not just old people. It requires a certain maturity to recognize that you can't get everything you want. A democracy is a lot like marriage - you have to have be willing to bend as far as you are able, because the relationship itself is more important than the outcome of any particular debate.

But there's a limit. Some things are simply non-negotiable. To abandon them is to give yourself up entirely. You can't label something "non-negotiable" casually - it has to be a very select list. And for liberals, one of those non-negotiable things is Social Security. Social Security is probably the most successful social policy in the history of the United States, lifting millions of seniors out of poverty, lifting the burden of carrying for an old parents from their children and grandchildren, and giving a crucial amount of independence to all. Beyond this, Social Security is the exemplar of what liberalism is. When you ask a liberal what their beliefs have done for the country, you can point to Social Security.

Which is why movement conservatives have always hated Social Security. They voted against it when it was created, and they've opposed every extension of it. They've never ceased working to undermine it. Social Security is the living embodiment of the New Deal, which the right hates with every fiber of its being. It makes them crazy that every time they take on Social Security, they get burned. Trying to destroy Social Security destroyed George Bush's 2nd term. And I'm here to tell you, if Barack Obama tries to do it, it will destroy him too. There's a reason that Reagan's chief of staff Jim Baker used to devour anyone in the White House who said the words "Social Security."

There's this very weird belief that Social Security is going to bankrupt the country, even though the projections show a pretty modest growth in the program over time. Yes, there are more old people, but people are also richer than they used to be. When I was 19 I was worried about the effects of the program, but then I actually looked at it and decided it was probably fine. Sure, we should probably lift the income cap on the payroll tax, but that would probably do the trick. Any honest person would say the same.

Not that the rightwing opponents of liberalism and their lackeys in the press and among the Blue Dog Democrats are being honest. Every time they talk about Social Security, they cloak it in terms of "entitlement reform." They lump in Medicare and Social Security into one category, note the dramatic increases in projected expenditures in that category, and say "Hey, we need to cut Social Security! Reduce benefits! Raise the retirement age!" It's a ridiculously transparent sleight of hand, since the program that's rising isn't Social Security, but Medicare. Now the problem of Medicare is part of the more general problem of rising health care costs. The conservatives don't want to tak about health care, since that's "socialized medicine" - they fear health care would be a second Social Security, and they're absolutely right. So they try to distract people with scare talk about "entitlements", ignore the part of "entitlements" that are a problem, and go after their real target, Social Security. It's that simple.

I don't know how seriously to take discussions in the D.C. political press that Obama is considering "entitlement reform," i.e. the destruction of Social Security. I suspect that Obama isn't stupid enough to touch the program. The liberals would turn on him with the righteous fury of one scorned, a fury that would be all the more intense because we haven't become disillusioned with him yet. I imagine there's nothing so painful, nothing so likely to inspire thoughts of homicide, than betrayal by someone you just married. If Obama were to support cuts to Social Security, he would blow up the Democratic Party, no question about it.

So a word to Obama from a friend - don't even think about it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:30 PM
  • The value of Social Security is even greater now than it was at its inception, if you think about it. At that time, so many people who worked stayed at one company for decades and ended up with pensions - which were much more common back then. Social Security was a lifesaver for those who had no hope of getting any kind of pension and didn't make nearly enough to completely provide for their later non-working years.

    In these transient days, people rarely stay at one company for 20 years - and fewer companies offer pensions anyway. Also, in these turbulent financial times, long established reputable companies are dropping like flies. 401ks are disappearing and retirement accounts in the stock market are losing value at the speed of light.

    The mind just absolutely boggles at the thought of Obama giving serious consideration for so much as a moment to dismantling the Social Security system.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 3:41 PM  
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