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That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. --Ecclesiastes 1:15

Readers, I'm a little over capacity this evening, what with trying to put a stake in the heart of a project. So I thought I'd put down a few thoughts on the Social Security flap from last week's debate between Obama and Romney on Social Security. Spoiler alert: There's nothing new here, but that's not necessarily a good thing.

I actually had a lead written: "Long, long ago, in a primary far away, there was a candidate who needed an issue. His name was Barack Obama." I thought that was pretty funny, because I started to pay close attention to Obama when he put Social Security "in play" in the 2008 Iowa primaries (and as a "character issue," too, to add insult to injury). As Atrios remarked (October 27, 2007) at the time (citing Drum): "I appreciate that Obama needs an issue, but please don't put social security into the Washington water. Once it gets in there all the serious pundits spend their days figuring out how best to starve granny." (Readers: Notice that "zombie-eyed granny starver" has a pedigree, and it's bipartisan.) I say "in play" because Democrats, with perhaps an assist from what we then thought of as the left blogosphere, had just finished beating George W. Bush like a gong for trying to privatize Social Security, and we thought Social Security was off the table. Atrios -- he's a professional economist! -- explained (October 29, 2007): "So, anyway, having someone suggest that Social Security is a problem which needs to be dealt with by any serious candidate is like the bat signal for people like me. There is no problem with Social Security. None at all" (italics mine. Well, every reason, if you want to dogwhistle Republicans, but that's a thread for another day.) Anyhow, I parsed Obama's words carefully from then on, and ultimately left the Party, but that's another thread for another day, too. "Class of" 2008. I know, way too late!)

Anyhow, that lead didn't work out, because here's Obama on on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos on May 13, 2007, well before Iowa. Which I missed, because I was too busy beating up on Republicans to pay attention to the good guys (hollow laughter):

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also said that with Social Security, everything should be on the table. OBAMA: Yes. STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising the retirement age? OBAMA: Everything should be on the table. STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising payroll taxes? OBAMA: Everything should be on the table.

So Obama's been willing to gut Social Security for some time. Aren't they all? Fast forward to last week's Presidential debates. October 3, 2012:

OBAMA: "You know, I suspect that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position."

Remarkably, Obama agreed with Romney on Social Security before Romney had taken a position in the debate (although by this point Romney had dragged Big Bird to the chopping block by his scrawny neck, which might have been a clue). What could possibly have been the basis for Obama's suspicion? Rather than take my blogger's tin shovel to the ginormous pile of impacted yet steaming dung and leachate that is our legacy party discourse, let me just take the Republican platform (undated, and, in the proprietary PDF format, unlinkable, so classy) as a proxy for Romney's views:

"While no changes should adversely affect any current or near-retiree, comprehensive reform should address our society's remarkable medical advances in longevity and allow younger workers the option of creating their own personal investment accounts as supplements to the system."

Well, that's clear enough: A two-tier benefit system, with a measure of privatization. It's also similar to the White House position ("check the web site!"), which is presumably a reasonable proxy for Obama's position:

Seniors and Social Security

He [Obama] believes that no current beneficiaries should see their basic [meaning?] benefits reduced and he will not accept an approach that slashes [reduces OK, then?] benefits for future generations. The President also stands firmly opposed to privatization and rejects the notion that the future of hard-working Americans should be left to the fluctuations of financial markets.

So, Obama, the Republican Platform, and the White House are all agreed that the future of Social Security will be a two-tier system. In the debate, what did Romney have to say?

ROMNEY: "[N]either the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you're 60 or around 60 or older, you don't need to listen any further. But for younger people, we need to talk [dread words!] about what changes are going to be occurring."

So, that to me is what the debate boils down to, and it's not news: A two-tier system of Social Security, with the battle to be fought out over privatization. (And you can bet that the battle, despite the White House's brave deceptive words, won't be about whether, but about when, how, and how much. After all, when you've mandated that people go on the market for a health exchange, why not mandate they go on the market for a retirement exchange? (Heck, a body organ exchange, but that might be carrying the good thing of a market state too far.)

How the young are going to handle both privatized retirement and massive debt is an open question, but no doubt the confidence fairy or the magicians of the marketplace have a ready answer.

One could wish that the entire debate was not framed as "I've got mine" -- as Romney gracefully puts, "you don't need to listen any further" -- "now you get yours," since, after all, what the legacy parties are doing, by advocating a two-tier system, is encouraging elders to betray their own children and grandchildren to age without dignity when their time comes. What a degraded, debased, vile, repellent, and let's-just-go-ahead-and-call-it-evil political class we have today, to be sure. And yet, they think they know us so well. I hope we prove them wrong.

* Slogan of the day: Forward to Shared Sacrifice With The Obama!

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nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

No cut to basic benefits=we won't reduce the nominal value of your check. Instead, we'll cut the COLA, so that inflation will erode its buying power.

We won't slash benefits for future retirees=we'll give you the same basic benefit, only you won't get it until you're 70 years old. In grand bargain catfood speak, raising the retirement age is not the same as reducing benefits. Oh, no, it isn't!

So I'd say Obama plans to cut the COLA and raise the retirement age.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

I am using it in an essay that I'm writing in response to a friend who sent me a list of Obama-Romney Differences. She is very bright, so I was shocked at the low information answers she gave.
OBAMA - Bottom-up. More money goes into the economy when working people have money to spend.
ROMNEY - Top-down. More money goes into the economy when businesses have money to spend.
OBAMA - Decrease
ROMNEY - Increase to 4% of GDP
OBAMA - Wanted Stronger. Signed Dodd-Frank
ROMNEY - Would repeal Dodd-Frank and "streamline" regulation. No specifics.

It goes on for another page. I'm putting together a reasoned answer with links as she asked for "additions/quibbles." Quibbles? They are more than quibbles and where oh where to begin?

Sigh, see why I have nobody to talk to. Lonely.

Submitted by lambert on

Mis- or dis-information.

This would be an interesting group project. If you put up the whole list, maybe we could collectively come up with some answers -- or at least pose alternatives you could reject ;-)

Submitted by YesMaybe on

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether a person simply hasn't been exposed to the facts or whether they effectively block them out. My experience with cases of this second type is that it's hopeless. Like you say, it's a case of "where to begin?" Problem is, even if you cover it pretty well, they'll find endless ways to obfuscate the discussion. The end result is typically that they walk back most of the claims about Obama being good, and instead settle for a mix of minutiae in which Obama isn't quite as bad and the always-available issues of abortion (which seems to be a godsend for both republicans and democrats) and gay marriage.

This will allow them to hold on to the claims that (a) Obama is better than Romney, and (b) the difference is not negligble (SUPREME COURT!!!), and therefore (c) either (i) if you don't vote for Obama you're helping Romney and that's terrible terrible terrible; or, more modestly, (ii) you can vote for whoever, but don't even think about suggesting that their vote for Obama is in any way an endorsement of him or those of his policies which are bad.

Rant over.

Submitted by lambert on

It's all great but I like this:

As logic goes, this is flawless. It only becomes absurd at a certain level of scale. If Ted Bundy were the Demolican candidate, and John Wayne Gacy the Republicrat... Well, a Gacy administration would certainly be better for women. But at that point, most people would throw up their hands and say 'who gives a shit?'