“[Comptroller general David] Walker is heading a group of analysts from the political left and right on a nationwide ‘Fiscal Wake-Up Tour,’ speaking to dozens of Rotary clubs and newspaper editorial boards. Pollsters are holding focus groups in which citizens, once informed of the nation’s fiscal future, usually say they’ll accept tax increases or cuts in benefits.”
USA Today, 10/9/07
The game continues. In the aftermath of World War II, when it looked like the New Deal would be continued and completed with universal health care and greater democratization of the economy, elites set out on a sort of long march. Their aim was to “re-conquer” the ideological and political ground they had lost to the majority in the 30s and 40s. Through propaganda, subversion, and the agency of a perpetual warfare state their aims are lately, perhaps, within reach. There’s a grotesque and embarrassing bipartisan consensus now that economic and social rights should only be available to those who can purchase them. No Child Left Behind (at the federal level) and “school consolidation” (in my home state) have painted a target on the back of public education. And finally, the ground is being prepared for the final assault: What Reagan’s budget guy David Stockman called, “storming the twin citadels of the welfare state–Social Security and Medicare … ”
Last time out, under Clinton, the “final assaulters” (FAs) got pretty close. William C. had his minions working out the numbering system for the so-called “private accounts” which WOULD HAVE bankrupted Social Security. Luckily for the public, Monica Lewinsky and her oval office Johnson worship saved the day. Rather than raid the public’s retirement fund William was forced to bomb a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant and kill some Iraqis in order to engorge his softening political capital.
Before Monica killed their buzz, the FAs had been saturating the media with scare stories about a “Demographic Tidal Wave” of greedy geezers soon to make landfall and drown society in fiscal red ink. As the baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) all got old and retired, society was supposedly doomed economically. The FAs brandished Social Security Trustee annual reports, newly laden with grim and frankly a-historical projections. Most interesting of all their suicidally depressed assumptions, the Trustees foresaw a 75 year planning period characterized by near-recession level economic growth. Even given their assumptions of a highly sedated economy the “problem” was still decades out. (2046 according to the GAO.)
No matter. The FAs roamed the country, with traveling road shows like the Pew Charitable Trust’s “Americans Discuss Social Security.” To get on the panel of experts featured in this snake-oil sales event one had to have drunk the Kool Aid and swallowed the dishonest “looming bankruptcy” story.
Back then, I attended Pew’s South Portland event. Dissent was not easily tolerated. It was considered very bad form to remind people that the baby boomer retirement had long ago (1983) been foreseen and dealt with. The Trustee report of 1983 stated that the system would “be able to pay benefits on time for the next 75 years under all but the most pessimistic of the various sets of assumptions … ” (The darkest assumptions? — A post-2000 growth rate of 2 percent or less, persistent unemployment numbers over 6 percent, and interest rates never getting below 6.6 percent). In 1983 the system had been retooled under recommendations of Reagan’s “Greenspan Commission.” Social Security was now to be “advance funded” with a huge trust fund surplus in the trillions earning interest and awaiting the pay out to boomers and beyond.
Even under the still darker scenarios in more recent trustee reports, the trust fund has the money to pay all claims on time for almost 4 decades — that’s three decades after Hillary / Rudy leaves office and just before US mercenaries begin to trickle out of Iraq.
But as the first of the boomers reach retirement age and with elites hungry for fresh meat, the FAs are readying another assault. USA Today’s October 9 front page screamed, “Social Security hits first wave of boomers: Drain on the system picks up in Jan., when millions born in ’46 start taking benefits.” The piece features a picture of “the first boomer,” Kathleen Casey-Kirschling (born, Jan. 1, 1946 at 12:00:01 AM) sitting on the stern of her rather upscale boat/yacht. In keeping with the conventional story line, “McPaper” defines her signing up for early (75%)retirement benefits as “a symbolic jump toward the retirement system’s looming bankruptcy.” Using terms like “deluge” the story features only Kool Aid sippers and FAs like the paleo-conservative Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl. He calls cutting oldsters’ meager checks, “the single greatest economic challenge of our era.”
The shell game is again presented as a bipartisanly inevitable. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) furthers the drowning metaphor with, “Partisanship on this issue is as foolish as a food fight on the Titanic.”
Get it? That mad captain FDR set us steaming too fast among those pre-climate change icebergs. Now we’ve come to ruin with a gash in our economic hull and, food fights aside, we must rationally and cooly decide who gets the boats and who gets the briny deep.
To aid in the process, we’re to be guided by something called the “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour.” USA Today calls this PR push “a group of analysts from the political left and right … ” As usual of course, there will be nobody passingly leftish in this crew. It’s headed up by the right-wing Concord Coalition’s Robert L. Bixby, who, prior to the New Hampshire whistle-stop told “PR Newswire” that this supposedly imminent mass drowning is ” One thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on.” It will, he warns, “require hard choices, ” but should be seen it as an “opportunity.”
“Who for?” you might ask.
The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour’s Manchester event was to be held at “The Derryfield Country Club, 625 Mammoth Rd.”
The Class War Open, featuring a killer water hazard. Tee it up.
RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. Since 1990, Rhames has been the chair of the Biddeford Democratic City Committee, an organization charged with “promoting the ideals of the Party.” He can be reached at: email@example.com