Dividers, not uniters

From Sam Rosenfeld in The American Prospect:
So seniors, surprise surprise, don’t support the idea of carving private accounts out of Social Security, even given the proponents’ nakedly cynical efforts to pander to their base self-interest. One hopes that senior antipathy towards the political game Republicans are playing here will only intensify the more that leading conservative pundits lob startling, if implicit, attacks on them for the evil burden they’re placing on poor, beleaguered younger demographic groups. The “greedy old people are going to destroy everything” line of argument is one favored by a lot of the hipper elite conservative writers, who get to look at once sober-minded (in coldly assessing the demographic disaster that an aging population presents) and compassionate (in pointing to all the hard-working younger folk who’ll get the shaft). It’s a perfect example of the kind of disingenuous, zero-sum wedge politics Republicans play on any number of fronts; Mark Schmitt recently described it as:
the twisted, bizarre uses of the idea of "unfairness" in right-wing rhetoric. Problems that are not entirely unsolvable (increase Pell Grants, improve health care or African-Americans) become redefined as if they are constant variables, which create an "unfairness" to be dealt with by eliminating benefits for someone else.
It’s gratifying to read some of the letters responding to David Brooks’ Saturday NYT column that manage to call him out for his sliminess:
"I take great exception to David Brooks's statement that Americans my age (seniors) are placing a "horrendous burden" on the young. Even more outrageous is his skewed observation that "over the past decades we have seen a gigantic transfer of wealth from struggling young families and the next generation to members of the AARP. Yes, there is a transfer of wealth in this country. It's from the struggling classes (young families and middle- to low-income seniors - the great majority) to the very wealthy and to the special-interest corporations that helped buy another term for George W. Bush.
Foremost among those special interests are the drug companies, which were major players in the prescription drug bill. As Americans, we're all in this struggle together. It's time that the people and the pundits open their eyes and see where the real blame for our current mess lies: with an administration whose only response to uncomfortable fiscal truths is more tax cuts for the rich."
Do the retirement of the baby boomers and the broader (and more consequential) prospect of declining population growth present challenges? Yes. But arrangements for resource allocation and burden-sharing are basic, politically determined social decisions, and a relative shift of resources up the aging scale is a fairly straightforward and intuitive accompaniment to an aging population. We’re not talking about apocalyptic developments here (at least where Social Security is concerned -- health care is another matter, though certainly not an issue that lends any more legitimacy to beating up on old people simply for being old and numerous). As Kevin Drum has pointed out on the narrow question of raising the retirement age, it’s useful to remember that this is a wealthy enough country to accommodate social arrangements that don’t punish old people for no good reason.


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