4/05/2005

Neutering Social Security

The inimitable Jim Hightower on AlterNet has written a "backgrounder" on the Social Security bamboozle/privatization scheme, helpfully providing a bit of historical perspective on how much Republicans have always hated Social Security, the motives and beneficiaries of said scheme, W's role in it, etc. All told in his usual colorful manner. Some choice quotations:
When George W. says he's going to "fix" our Social Security system, I feel like a dog that's just been told, "We're taking you to the vet to get you fixed."...While politicians from Goldwater to George have portrayed their assault on the program in terms of "saving" it with a curative dose of privatization, it's really the very existence of Social Security that sticks in their craw...These are laissez-faire extremists who loathe the notion of anything "public," who cringe at the ethic of the "Common Good," and who despise any government program that supports anything other than military and corporate interests...George himself has long been a part of this journey from the wilderness. He's currently squawking like a rooster choking on a peach pit about the urgency of dealing with a looming "crisis" in Social Security, as though this issue suddenly has appeared on his radar. But he's been nurturing privatization as a policy goal from his days as a prep school brat... Today's push for those accounts has nothing to do with the program's long-term finances, as the Bushites and most media pundits tell us, and everything to do with this relentless decades-long campaign by antigovernment zealots to replace our public system with a private one. The political road map came from a little noticed document prepared under the auspices of Cato. Written in 1983, it laid out a five-point strategy for creating a political environment that would give privatization a chance: 1. Maintain constant criticism of Social Security to influence the media and to undermine public confidence in the soundness of the program; 2. Build a network of influential supporters of private accounts, including Wall Street brokers who would profit from them; 3. Divide and conquer the opposition by assuring retirees and those nearing retirement that their benefits would be fully paid; 4. Enact laws creating 401(k)s and other private accounts so people learn to accept them; and 5. Have a privatization plan waiting in the wings when a president came along who was willing to claim that Social Security's trust fund faces a shortfall...Folks are figuring out what George's proposal means: tossing out the guarantee of retirement security; slashing benefits and raising the retirement age; no spousal benefits or disability payments; promised stock gains that are iffy at best (check the decline in your own 401(k)); and Wall Street fees and fraud that will devour any gains. Many old folks recall that we tried privatized retirement in the past. It was called the Great Depression. And some folks already know what privatizing retirement means, because they've seen that future ... and recoiled from it. Actually, the Bushites might have done us a favor by making this greedheaded and ideological lunge for our Social Security money. First, their audacious move has solidified and energized progressive forces to fight against it. Second, it rips away the "compassionate conservative" and "family values" masks that Bush has been wearing. Third, it opens up the big debate about what kind of country we want America to be. Will we be an I-got-mine, you're-on-your-own society, or a nation of people who continue striving for America's egalitarian ideal of the Common Good. This is more than a fight over our retirement (as big as that is). It's a fight for America's democratic soul. It's also a fight we can -- and must -- win.

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