This campaign by W to torpedo Social Security to the bottom of the laissez faire ocean has got me fit to be tied. I cannot think of a better example of the utter mendacity, the thoroughgoing ideological dishonesty and intellectual corruption of this president and his party than the push to ‘reform’ Social Security. And that includes the now-forgotten run up to the Iraq fiasco, complete with Wizard of Oz weapons of mass destruction! At least Saddam was bad!
Social Security is a success, and that’s why the Republicans hate it. Let’s face it – a segment of the right hated Social Security in the 30s when FDR passed it, and they never stopped. They see it for what it is – a government program to reduce poverty and improve social welfare by redistributing income. They see it as a government get-around of the free market intended to guarantee an income to older folks, an income that is not based on their investment, but on a social contract between the young and the old. We who are young, work to support you who are old, and have worked. That’s exactly what it is, and I would retain a shred of respect for them if they would just be honest and come out and say that they hate it because they don’t think government should do that sort of thing. They hew to the 19th century liberal position – yes, that position was called liberal then! – that, as Mag Thatcher put it, “There’s no society, just families with children.” Forget about enforcing social contracts, social compacts – only legally binding contracts for property matter.
Well, they aren’t so honest. Instead they cry that the system is broke (it’s not), that it won’t pay any benefits soon (it will pay for years, and even at the ‘crisis’ in the 2040s, will pay 70%), and that private accounts will save it, when they will bankrupt it and the federal government as well. But if that comes to pass, then they will have an excuse to really cut away Social Security. Another variation on the “starve the beast” strategy of reigning in goverment from the Far Right. Cut taxes and spend away, then cry that there is no money for programs. But nobody would vote for this if they called it by its name.
And W’s spin on this is his homey phrase, “Hey, it’s your money!” I’ve been thinking about that – is it? Does he mean that the government has no right to our money at all? Funny position for a man who is president and has been governor. What does he think runs the government, hot air? No, it’s taxes, and unless you take the radical libertarian position that the government has NO right to tax you, well, then it’s not a question of whether it’s your money or not, but just how much and for what reason the government can take a bit of it for communal purposes. Yes, the rebel colonists shouted, “No taxation without representation!” They didn’t shout, “No taxes!” And Tom Paine wrote a wonderful essay which all worshippers at the shrine of strict constructionism should read called “On the Necessity of Taxes.”
W’s spin is just the nonsense libertarian view, i.e., the cowardly anarchic view that says, “No one has the right to anything of mine, but I have the right to a lot of yours. You can’t tell me what to do, but I can tell you what to do. ” Or best of all, “the government shouldn’t get involved in giving people help, until I need help.” It is a simpleminded attempt to deny the social aspect of existence. Yes, we must preserve the rights of the individual to prosper by his exertions, but he only does so in the context of social efforts that make it possible. Think of the white collar professional, living a cushy existence, product of a nice state university education, driving to work on vast highways, and ranting about taxes taking his money. Who paid for the roads he drives on, the college he attended? Who made it possible for him to live in an economic regime where his cushy job and salary are possible? We all did – the social collective. There are plenty of smart people in the world who live in abject misery and poverty because they have the bad fortune to be born someplace else. Their brains don’t do them much good – they can’t invent an entire economy on their own!
So, as we happily wallow in our lucre, count our bucks, and rant about taxes, let’s recall, that OUR money is ours by virtue of the collective in which we live. So maybe, just maybe, it makes sense to use some of it to keep the game going. And maybe it’s just self-serving and stupid to advance as a matter of policy the crude and short-sighted motto, “It’s my money.”