One of the most successful anti-poverty programs ever created in the U.S. is the Social Security program. Despite that, conservatives and Republicans, primarily for ideological reasons, have attempted to dismantle the program–if not in one fell swoop, then incrementally.
One of the tactics that conservatives have used is to try to convince people that Social Security “won’t be there” when they retire. To do this, they gin up the notion that Social Security is in crisis, even though that is simply not true. The reason for this is that, as mandated by law, the Social Security Trustees are required to report three estimates of the future state of the program. All three estimates use an effective rate of growth in GDP that is much lower than has occurred over the last thirty to forty years; the ‘medium’ and ‘low’ estimates use a rate of growth that is substantially lower. The Trustees’ summary report–the figure everyone discusses–focuses on the ‘medium’ estimate. Consequently, Social Security is predicted to become ‘insolvent’ about 34 years out every year the report is released: I’ve dubbed this unit of time, the Samuelson unit, after columnist Robert Samuelson, who clearly doesn’t know how to read bar graphs.
Yet Senator Obama, at least in front of some audiences, is claiming that there is a Social Security crisis:
Barack Obama sounding better on Social Security during the MSNBC presidential debate late last month.
I absolutely agree that Social Security is not in crisis.
Barack Obama sounding a lot worse during an interview with National Journal from Tuesday posted yesterday on the magazine’s website.
Q: So, welcome to Senator Barack Obama. Welcome to “National Journal On Air.” Let me start right away by asking you about the contrasts that you are drawing between yourself and Hillary Clinton. Her campaign people, the people who support her, say by calling her somebody whose word can’t be trusted, by suggesting that she’s disingenuous, that that’s really a character attack — that that’s the very thing that you said you weren’t going to do in this campaign.
Obama: Well, I strongly disagree. Look we are offering our plans for the future on health care, on education, on energy, and the American people have a right to judge how clear and how consistent have the candidates been in their positions. Because if they’re not clear and consistent, then it’s pretty hard to gage how much they’re going to fight on these issues. You know, Senator Clinton says that she’s concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis, then I think voters aren’t going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her. And that’s the kind of leadership I think that the Democratic Party has to offer in the years to come. [emphasis added]
Why Obama is adopting Republican talking points escapes me. I realize he’s trying to position himself as a practitioner of ‘New Politics’ or some other marketing hoohah, but Social Security doesn’t need new politics, because there is no crisis requiring them. Atrios has mentioned that Obama’s claims are “like the bat signal for people like me.” And he’s right that all Obama is doing is opening the door for people who are not concerned with providing a minimal income for the elderly, the disabled, the widowed, and the orphaned to fuck up the program.
But not only is this dreadful policy, it’s bad politics. As a Democrat, I’m used to the spectacle of Democrats who slink away from every confrontation with Republicans–even when the public supports them. But one of the saving graces of being a Democrat and a liberal is that Social Security is our ideological flagship. And it is ours. Modern conservatives despise this program, and their intellectual progenitors tried to prevent it from ever being created. Most importantly, it is a program that works superbly. When Obama threatens the status of Social Security through lies and mendacity*, he is launching a full-out assault on what it means to be a Democrat.
Ironically, Republicans understand this. As was the case with S-CHIP, they know Social Security strengthens liberal policies and politics, and weakens conservative policies and politics. Yet Obama regurgitates Republican talking points.
*The alternatives are that Obama is either a fucking moron or amazingly ignorant, neither of which I believe.