Opinion » Editorial

Social Insecurity



The Flyer's cover story this week details the controversy surrounding Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. and the perception by many national political pundits that he has become the Democratic "point man" for the Bush administration's push to partially privatize Social Security.

Ford disputes the allegations, but there is no disputing that the administration is trying to sell the American public on the notion that Social Security is in "crisis" and that allowing Americans to privatize a certain percentage of their wages will help solve the problem. However, as has become increasingly clear in recent weeks, the crisis is largely fictional, driven more by the Republican neocons' philosophical desire to scale down government and send money into the private sector than by a budget crunch. (You remember the neocons? They're the ones who "philosophically" got us into the unholy mess in Iraq.)

Social Security is not going broke anytime soon. Most analysts set the date for "running out of money" at somewhere around 2052, plenty of time to make measured and responsible adjustments. Social Security should not be treated as an "investment opportunity." It is and always has been insurance: a trust fund generated by every American who works that pays funds back to those who survive to retirement age and beyond. It guarantees all of us at least a minimal income for life after we retire. Taking money out of this fund to allow private investment is a recipe to destroy Social Security, a fact that doesn't particularly trouble the Republican neocons -- or the large investment firms that will reap the windfall profits if such a policy comes to pass.

Social Security trustees estimate that over the next 75 years the shortfall in funds will be $3.7 trillion. Contrast that number with the estimated loss of revenue if the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent: $11.6 trillion. The crisis, it appears, is eminently solvable: Don't make the tax cuts (yes, for the richest 1 percent of Americans) permanent and use some of the money to keep the retirement safety net for the American worker on solid footing.

A memo from the administration's Peter Wehner to presidential uber-aide Karl Rove was leaked last week. It detailed how the public needed to be "sold" on the idea that Social Security "is heading for an iceberg."

"For the first time in six decades," the memo said, "the Social Security battle is one we can win." It's not an exaggeration to say that if this administration "wins" on Social Security, we all lose.

Bad News

The revelation last week that conservative "journalist" Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 of our tax dollars to surreptitiously tout administration education policies was troubling in several regards.

First, the public's already skeptical attitude toward the media got another boost. "How many more journalists are on the take?" they might justifiably ask. And indeed, Williams himself told The Nation's David Corn that he was "not alone," that other pundits and journalists had also benefited from the administration's PR largesse. If true, and if bigger fish are fried (say Robert Novak or Rush Limbaugh), the repercussions will be many and major.

But even if the Williams case is an isolated one, emerging details about the pundit's life will inevitably lead to even more cynicism about our media "elite." Williams, a noted opponent of gay marriage and the man who got Trent Lott to compare homosexuality to "kleptomania" and other mental diseases, has in fact been sued for sexual harassment by a former male employee who accused him of more than 50 advances. Williams settled out of court. Just like another noted media moralist, Bill O'Reilly.

The hits just keep on coming. And so does the hypocrisy. •

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