Make no mistake: They’re not just trying to roll back Social Security. They’re trying to dismantle the entire New Deal, piece by piece. There are at least “310,000,000 Reasons to Vote,” one for each and every American citizen. But there’s also a 310,000,001th reason:
To piss off Alan Simpson.
That may not be the most high-minded motive for executing one’s civic duty, but like they say: Whatever works.
Simpson is, as most people know by now, the co-chair of the Deficit Commission. He’s the guy who’s using the Deficit Commission platform to lead his own personal jihad against anyone with the temerity to claim (or expect to claim) the Social Security retirement benefits they’ve funded with their own paychecks. It’s Simpson who famously compared Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” Most people didn’t recognize the quote, but Simpson was probably attempting to channel H. L. Mencken’s line about government itself, which Mencken called “a milch-cow with 125 million teats” (the population of the United States at the time).
That’s right: Simpson was recycling a denigrating comment about the very institution of government. The swapping of “teat” (the commonly-used word for an animal’s milk-giving gland) for the word that refers to a woman’s breast was Simpson’s own alteration, probably intended to disturb the female recipient of his comment. But Simpson real intent was to express his own deep-seated hostility to the very idea of government, a hostility shared by many of the politicians running for office this year. As for Mencken, he was rabidly anti-FDR, referring to him on more than one occasion as “the Fuehrer.” Simpson was probably also telegraphing a similar loathing for the entire New Deal and the social programs that followed it.
Why rehash the Simpson flap about cow mammaries? Because it reminds us exactly what we’re up against next Tuesday. Social Security is under attack by a well-funded and highly organized coalition made up of billionaires, ethically compromised news organizations, and patronizing members of a self-designated elite (with a few misogynistic misanthropes like Simpson thrown in for good measure). They’re making terrific headway, too.
And this is just the beginning: If they succeed in rolling back Social Security, it will just be the first step. Once that’s accomplished, every major social program in the country will be in their sights. That’s why they’ve pulled out all the stops to accomplish this first goal. The Washington Post has turned part of its newsgathering function over to an outfit that’s funded by an ideologically-driven anti-government billionaire. Well-paid pundits are luxuriating in the opportunity to give lectures on “sacrifice” to older working people struggling to get by, bathing in the glow of self-righteousness as if it were just another mud bath at their customary spa. Technocrats like economist Alice Rivlin are pretending that decisions about spending priorities are “technical problems” rather that political choices, as if the political process itself were some sort of virus that had infected their spreadsheet programs.
Spending priorities are never a “technical” issue, of course. They’re statements about our priorities and values as a society. That means that, in a democratic society, they must always be decided politically. That’s not a bad thing. It’s called “democracy.” And the decisions that Rivlin et al. would foist upon us are, by their very nature, political. They just like to pretend otherwise.
136 members of Congress have signed a pledge to “stand firmly” against any Social Security cuts, adding that “We urge you to join us in protecting and strengthening Social Security rather than letting it fall victim to a misguided attempt to reduce budget deficits on the backs of working families.” Each and every representative of that pledge is up for re-election on Tuesday.
Now, as it happens, the pledge signers are all members of one political party. It shouldn’t be that way in a representative democracy. Political one-sidedness on Social Security represents a breakdown of the democratic process, since three-fourths of all Americans oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit – including 77% of Republicans and 76% of Tea Party supporters! There should be a bipartisan drive to protect Social Security, an across-the-aisle effort to counteract the Inside-the-Beltway fixation on cutting it. Maybe someday there will be, despite the efforts of the technocratic ideologues and the billionaire media-influencers.
That’s why there are 310,000,000 reasons to vote. That’s one for each and every American who has paid into the Social Security Trust Fund through their payroll taxes, and who deserves to receive the promised level of benefits when they retire. There are 310,000,000 reasons to vote, one for each and every American born into a society where everyone was assured a minimum level of protection from privation and want when they’re unable to work because of age or disability. There are 310,000,000 reasons to vote, one for every American raised to believe that government has a legitimate role to play in assuring the well-being, safety, and security of its citizens.
Then there’s the 310,000,001th reason: To frustrate, aggravate, and otherwise annoy Alan Simpson, an already disagreeable individual who’s likely to become even more so if he’s thwarted in his lifelong quest to shaft older Americans (or “greedy geezers,” as he likes to call them). Sure, that’s not the best reason to vote – but, hey, it’s a reason.
And if Simpson doesn’t like the election results, then as the old expression goes: “Tough titty.”
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future. This post was produced as part of the Strengthen Social Security campaign. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Website: Eskow and Associates