Opinion » Viewpoint

Caveat Emptor

As the Romans said, let the buyer beware on Social Security.



Last Friday, at the Cannon Center in Memphis, President Bush dismissed observations from Democrats and others that his Social Security proposals are part of an effort to dismantle the New Deal: "That's what you call political propaganda," he insisted.

But it's impossible to ignore that the Bush plan -- as much as we can know of it -- does nothing to bring solvency to the system, eliminates a portion of guaranteed benefits, and shifts a good deal of risk to the American people -- as well as a disproportionate measure of wealth to Wall Street.

While in Memphis, the president expressed concern for "our grandchildren," the demographic for whom he is certain Social Security will fail. "This is a generational issue," he said. "It is an issue that is very important for members of Congress to understand -- that a lot of grand-folk/parents care deeply about not only their own security. But once they're assured, they care deeply about the security of their grandchildren."

Security? The likelihood is that our grandchildren will not only assume more personal risk but pay the price, in trillions of dollars, for swelling an already gigantic national deficit.

In 2000, when America was happily contemplating a budget surplus, Vice President Al Gore said we should take a chunk of that extra money and put it in a "lockbox" to ensure solvency. He was laughed out of the political arena. "Lockbox" became a punchline for late-night comics. But as the mighty surplus has vaporized into a record deficit in the wake of massive tax cuts, record spending for Medicare, and the war in Iraq, all the laughter has died away.

Bush told Memphians to be wary of propaganda. That's certainly something he knows about.

As TheNew York Times and others have recently reported, the Bush administration has engaged in the creation and distribution of prepackaged news supporting its domestic and foreign agendas. The president's barnstorming tour of America, wherein he discusses the warm fuzzies of ownership and investment with handpicked panels of supporters, is a fine example of propaganda.

It has been said that the Democrats need to put forward their own plan for saving Social Security. Why should they, when President Bush has yet to put forward his plan? At this point all anyone has seen is a slick marketing package designed to test the waters and see how Joe & Jane Six-pack will respond to the notion of trading their guaranteed benefits for the assumption of risk.

The president's proposal is not, as some have suggested, an actual plan to phase out Social Security. It's more like a feasibility study to see if a Social Security phase-out plan can be packaged like a late-night infomercial.

"I'm going to continue traveling our country until it becomes abundantly clear to the American people we have a problem," the president said. "And [until] it's abundantly clear to those who will receive Social Security checks that nothing is going to change. So I want to start by saying to the seniors here in Tennessee and folks listening on your television set that for you -- for those of you receiving a check today and for those of you, like me, near retirement -- nothing is going to change."

Well, except for the fact that you'll have fewer benefits, higher risk, a staggering national deficit, and perhaps no insurance against disability. But you will own something. And ownership is the American Dream. Buy if you will, but caveat emptor: "Let the buyer beware."

Chris Davis is a Flyer staff writer and proprietor of "The Flypaper Theory," a Weblog.

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