Sunday, January 30, 2005

This Sounds Familiar...

I wrote yesterday (stealing- erm, quoting liberally from Slate) that the real reason for Social Security reform was to undermine FDR's legacy, making it possible to undo much of the regulatory structure that grew up in his wake. Today's Post suggests that I may have underestimated what their goals are.

When President Bush stands before Congress on Wednesday night to deliver his State of the Union address, it is a safe bet that he will not announce that one of his goals is the long-term enfeeblement of the Democratic Party.

But a recurring theme of many items on Bush's second-term domestic agenda is that if enacted, they would weaken political and financial pillars that have propped up Democrats for years, political strategists from both parties say.

There is a reason why the strongest support for Social Security privatization comes from young people- they have no memory of market failure, and their political identities are not yet fully formed. If a young person has any awareness of Social Security at all, they tend to see it as an ill advised giveaway to the old and infirm (no Republican has yet explained how someone receiving Social Security Disability is supposed to open personal accounts). The long term goal is to undo Social Security's strong association with Democrats, and essentially create a new generation of voters who associate Republicans as the party that represents their interests.

The Post continues, If the Bush agenda is enacted, "there will be a continued growth in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Republican, both in terms of self-identified party ID and in terms of their [economic] interests," said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and an operative who speaks regularly with White House senior adviser Karl Rove. In other words, the real goal of Bush's domestic agenda is a continuing Republican majority for the foreseeable future.

This worries me, because the opposition party has proven itself ineffectual at delivering its message. Progressive policies are the right policies- we have done a piss poor job at framing the issues, however. Case in point- John Kerry kicked Dubya's ass in all three debates, but what were we talking about? Swift Boats and whether Kerry was out of line for acknowledging in public that Mary Cheney, a lesbian, is in fact a lesbian.

The other side pursues policies that are reckless and irresponsible- risking the retirement funds of an entire nation to the vicissitudes of the market sounds reckless to me- but because of the way they present the issue, we have to take the defensive. Remember, Social Security as it exists has a 70 year history of success. Before FDR, a majority of the country lived in poverty. Now, most Americans are safely in the middle class- that change is solely the result of activist and aggressive government intervention; but because they have framed the issue, whenever I suggest that Social Security is solvent and stable, people look at me like I have three heads.

If Dubya gets his way, it will be because they control the language.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

If I may, I'd like to dispute your characterization of the motivations of "young voters." I've been getting my yearly statement from the Social Security Administration for a couple of years now, and they've been saying quite clearly that the system is going to run out of money before I retire. That's my motivation, and when the President addressed it, I said "About time."

I'm 28 and remember market crashes very well. We just had one, as you recall, but the economy didn't collapse as a result of it. Market crashes are only a worry of those who don't invest properly.

But, to your argument that Social Security is stable and solvent: please argue the point. I am given to understand that the number of workers to retirees is shrinking.