The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, December 23, 2004

DON'T HATE MY SUCCESSFUL GOVERNMENT PROGRAM BECAUSE IT'S BEAUTIFUL!

Tommaso asks the relevant incredulous questions pertaining to the Republicans' intent to destroy Social Security. Namely, "why?"

The answer is simple: Decapitation.

Social Security is the most successful and consistent government program in the history of the United States. It was conceived and implemented thanks to Franklin Delano Roosevelt... and Republicans have been fuming about it ever since.

They aren't fuming because Social Security is an inefficient, finite program that will break down and leave America's retirees with nothing in the ol' piggy bank. They are fuming, and have been since the 30's, because it has kept the piggy banks of retirees full.

It's a program -- tax every worker a little and transfer the revenue to retirees -- that runs directly against economic conservatism, and it has been highly successful for a long time, and would be fine for decades even if we did nothing at all to help it. That is a combination the Bushatarians and Norquistians cannot bear. Of course, those are groups who wouldn't mind seeing the end of the IRS and the Departments of Education and Energy, for starters.

Their solution? Call for the head of the most successful Democratic-inspired federal program, Social Security. The thinking is that if they can convince enough people to "reform" Social Security, then they can probably do just as much, if not more to a variety of programs whose track records are less consistent, or at least more subject to tactical framing (say, Medicare and the public school system). Hence "decapitation".

Of course, doing so requires manufacturing a "crisis", ginning up some creative Wall Street projections, and pretending that certain sums of money (the trust fund, for example) "don't count" because they are "just promises". There's a lot to say on this matter, but here's a good place to start.

They're going to "starve the beast", and Social Security is its dinner.

Why is this such a high priority for them? Once again, it's a matter of framing. In general, conservatives have the best chance of winning a national-scale policy debate over liberals on a given issue when the liberals don't have objective results to which they can point. When both sides are in the "convincing" stage of a policy debate, conservatives have a better shot because 1) their stated positions are often more concise and easier for "heartland" Americans to understand, and 2) they can more easily frame the liberal position as fitting like a glove into the stereotype. ("They're taking your money! And there's no way to know if you'll get anything for it!")

This is why the 2000 election was more important than many people realized at the time: The "result" put the Democrats back into a position where they were in the "convincing" stage on their issues, instead of building upon whatever progress was made during the Clinton administration. By contrast, the Republicans got their chance to shove the "results" of Clinton's domestic policy as far down the ol' memory hole as they could manage.

This dynamic has given Bush and his cohorts on the right the opportunity to decapitate mainstream liberal policy by gutting Social Security. It's up to the Dems not to let this happen. *shudder*

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