Mission elapsed time: T + 28 and counting*
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!