People Before Profits

Two leading Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, publicly took their party to task for its “just say no” approach to President Bush’s proposed privatization and benefit cuts. “To say there is no problem simply puts Democrats out of the conversation for the great majority of the country,” they warned. “Voters are looking for reform, change, and new ideas, but Democrats seem stuck in concrete.”

Stuck, indeed. The more appropriate metaphor would be that they are holding their ground and refusing to surrender to a president who is once again manufacturing a “crisis.”

Let’s start with the facts. According to the numbers President Bush is using, Social Security can pay all promised benefits for the next 37 years without any changes at all. Even if nothing were done by 2043, the program would still pay a higher real (adjusted for inflation) benefit than what people receive today.

So this attack on Social Security has nothing to with the solvency of the program. Nonetheless, last month a Quinnipiac University poll found that respondents, by a 49 to 42 percent margin, believed that Social Security would not be able to pay them a benefit when they retire. This is a ridiculous idea, based completely on misinformation.

A few cheap verbal and accounting tricks have been used to convince the public that Social Security faces serious problems. These are easily refuted. Look how fast President Bush stopped using the word “crisis” to describe Social Security, when the Democrats hit him with the truth.

They should hit him just as hard when he says, “there is no trust [fund].” The strategy of standing up to President Bush on Social Security is working. The same Quinnipiac poll showed that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling Social Security, with only 28 percent approving. It makes no political sense to capitulate and pretend that this attack on our nation’s most successful and popular government program is actually an attempt to insure its solvency. Even in politics, there are times when honesty is the best policy.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Reprinted from Knight-Ridder/Tribune newspapers with permission of the author.