Tuesday, March 01, 2005

 

THE post on Bush's Social Security strategy

Mark Schmitt nails it:
How Social Security Phase-Out Makes Republicans

Noam Scheiber asked an important question this week: how damaging could the Social Security debacle be to Congressional Republicans, and why did the White House put them in this position? I asked a prominent Democratic pollster a similar question the other day -- why did they set the table so poorly for the debate -- and she compared it to a question she had been asked by a Republican counterpart: "Why do you Democrats keep pushing affirmative action when it polls so badly?" Her answer, "Because we believe in it." And that was her best guess at why Bush was pushing privatization so carelessly. And that's surely part of the answer to why they push it, but it does not explain everything, including why they did not prepare the ground.

:::snip:::

This is related to what I believe is the Republican strategy to break any positive connection between citizens and government. The appointment of "Constitution in Exile" judges and the stripping of government of all revenues is part of the strategy. Even the horrendous Medicare prescription drug bill fits this strategy, in my theory, because in its arbitrariness, its cost, its "donut hole" where coverage is needed most, it will, when fully phased in, create only anger and frustration, not the positive associations that people have with a reliable, sensible insurance program like Medicare or Social Security. It is an "anti-entitlement," the opposite of the guaranteed protections that entitlements can offer.

The positive theory that accounts will make people excited, entrepreneurial, wealth-accumulating owners, and thus Republicans, expresses one idea about human nature. The negative, anti-government theory embodies another: that people, unless desperate, will not rise up to demand what they don't have and have never known. Here it's useful to remember that Karl Rove's historical parallel is the 36 years of Republican dominance from the McKinley election in 1996 to Hoover's defeat. That was a brutal period in American economic life. Government offered nothing in the way of benefits for workers, minimal widows' pensions, no aid for children, monetary policies that were cruel to farmers and regulatory laissez-faire that was cruel to workers. And yet, year in and year out, people took it, without question. It was the natural order of things. Only the greatest economic collapse in our history forced change. People generally don't demand what they don't have. When Social Security is gone, it will not come back, no matter how badly the accounts do. And people will not respond to its absence by becoming Democrats and demanding the restoration of an economic safety net for seniors. Rather, they will forget it ever existed and vote Republican, confirmed in their belief that government doesn't do a damn thing for anyone. There is little doubt in my mind that this is the thought process in "Bush's brain."
We are going to have to fight the same battles over and over again: labor unions, fair bankruptcy laws, safe workplaces, clean air and water, a social safety net - everything we achieved in the first half of the twentieth century - we are going to have to struggle to retrieve.

I'm not sure why so many Americans are so easily befuddled. There's a natural aversion to paying taxes, and a natural tendency to assume you're not getting yours. That your taxes go to pay benefits to someone else - naturally, someone else not as entitled to them as you would be if you were in their shoes. So it's easy for demagogues to tell you over and over again that your money is being wasted on those who don't deserve it. That government can't be trusted, that government is evil, and that therefore we can and should do without government.

Eventually, things will end up going bad enough that people will start banding together to work on solutions, and they will figure out that they need government, as the natural expression of people's needs. But how much time, how many lives, will have been wasted in the meantime, refighting battles we won so long ago?

(Incidentally, predicting that things will go bad is not the same as hoping they will go bad. In any case, the Republicans don't give a shit whether or not things go bad, just as they don't give a shit that Social Security is the most successful government program of all time in the United States. It's government, therefore they hate it whether or not it has done real good - and destroying it will do real harm.

I've never read anyone describe it so clearly as Schmitt. Post of the Year, in my opinion.
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