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Selling Social Security Reform, Team Bush-Style
by Seth Sandronsky
March 5, 2005

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President Bush’s push to sell Social Security reform to a wary U.S. public has shifted gears. The second leg of his sales effort has begun with a repeated warning that the popular program faces a crisis, plus a challenge to Democratic opponents to offer their alternative.  Bush, Vice President Cheney and Treasury Secretary Snow will canvass the nation for 60 days in 29 states to spread the idea of revamping Social Security. Team Bush’s main talking point is that the popular program faces a grave future without benefit cuts and private accounts.  Snow promised “to hit this hard” before speaking in Louisiana.

It is an open secret that Team Bush’s case for reforming Social Security has been floundering. In the NY Times of March 1, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, lamented that despite 18 public meetings with Iowans last month, they remain unconvinced that Social Security is at-risk.  Folks in Montana had a similar response to Bush’s proposed plan when he spoke there in February. The same dynamic was the case in Sacramento when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) had a public meeting late last month.

We are seeing a popular negation of the ruling party’s major domestic policy initiative. Regular people in California, Iowa and Montana know when they are being bamboozled.  And they are speaking out against being fleeced by Team Bush.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the general population is becoming more opposed to Social Security reform the more the details of the benefit cuts and private accounts see the light of day.  Ordinary people are getting it that Team Bush’s plan for the program will harm it and them. Recent public opinion polls by establishment groups show this trend quite clearly.  Polling by USA Today/CNN/Gallup and New York Times/CBS News are two cases in point.

What exactly is Team Bush’s evidence of Social Security’s looming insolvency?  In a nutshell, smoke and mirrors, with much repetition, the heart of their fear-mongering propaganda.  The program is fully funded until 2042, according to the Social Security trustees.  Four of the six trustees are Bush’s political appointees.  The Congressional Budget Office says that Social Security can pay full benefits to recipients through 2052.

The program’s funding faces no crisis that requires the solutions of Team Bush: benefit cuts and private accounts.  For nearly every decade of Social Security’s existence, there have been changes to the program without privatizing it and making draconian cuts.  The Social Security crisis exists only in the minds and the mouths of Team Bush.

Government programs do not run short of funds. Ask yourself when Team Bush faced a lack of funds for a military and security program. And why?  Political will determines government spending.  Excuses for journalists fail to ask Team Bush why Social Security faces insolvency, a fate not shared by the Pentagon.  Such scriveners are your basic stenographers to the powerful.

Syndicated columnist George Will is one example. For his backing of right-wing extremism, he got a $250,000 stipend from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation on February 16.

With Team Bush cackling about Social Security’s funding crisis, endless funds flow from Main Street’s pockets for military and security spending.  In the meantime, tax cuts for the well-heeled are draining taxable revenue from the federal government. Team Bush’s political priorities correspond to the financial interests of its patrons, chiefly the energy and military sectors.  Main Street’s material interests lie elsewhere.  This recognition is being revealed by the growing popular opposition to Team Bush’s plan for Social Security.  We see a rise in class consciousness from the grassroots.

Team Bush’s propagandizing the U.S. public with crisis talk about Social Security is nothing new, actually. The program has been under attack in one form or another since being created in response to the militant political actions of the working class during the Great Depression.

Team Bush’s sales effort to reform Social Security reflects class relations in U.S. society.  Social inequality is growing like a cancer on the social fabric. Income has been redistributed upwards the past 25 years under both political parties. Weakening New Deal and Great Society programs for the working many has been a key part of this social change.  At the same time, formal politics has withered for the mass of the nation’s people.  Politics has become “the shadow cast on society by big business,” in the words of philosopher John Dewey. Despite and because of these related trends in 2005, Main Street is saying no to Team Bush’s Social Security reform.  This is a victory for the majority in its class struggle against a parasitic minority, expressed most visibly by Team Bush’s attack on Social Security.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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