The Truth About Rick Perry's Controversial Social Security Remarks
It's important to understand that many seniors simply do not look at Social Security and Medicare as "government redistribution programs" no different than Medicaid or Obamacare, but as earned benefits--as an "entitlement" in a very literal sense. Jamelle Bouie ofThe American Prospect traveled to a Tea Party event in South Carolina recently and picked up on this sentiment:During a campaign event in Myrtle Beach on Labor Day, the Texas governor said that "Anyone who wants to keep the status quo on entitlements isn't being honest," and at Wednesday's GOP debate in California, Perry called the retirement program a "monstrous lie" and a "Ponzi scheme."
To the older, white Tea Party voters Perry needs to win the Republican nomination, this simply isn't true. "We paid into Social Security," said Steven Anderson, a member of the Low Country 9/12 project and a retiree. His wife, Judie, chimed in, "It's not an entitlement, it's ours." The same went for Art LeBruce, a retired Army medic and long-time member of the group, "That's my money that I put into Social Security--I deserve it."
This is the same sentiment, which many progressives interpret as blatant hypocrisy or selfishness, that led so many conservative seniors to adamantly oppose ObamaCare while demanding no cuts in Medicare--or even because they believed extending health coverage to the uninsured would directly lead to Medicare cuts.
The fact that Social Security, and to an even greater extent Medicare, in fact do represent a redistribution of money from taxpayers to most if not all beneficiaries has not shaken the iron conviction of many seniors that the programs are fundamentally different from "welfare" in any form.
So ideologues like Perry who have identified Social Security and Medicare as just part of the vast march to socialism during the twentieth century are in danger of an attack that may conventionally look like it's coming from "the left" but may actually threaten them most among staunch conservatives who think federal austerity measures should strictly come out of the hide of "those people" who haven't "earned" their benefits--you know, younger people, poorer people, darker people.
This is one reason why people who want to protect the safety net have resisted the idea of means testing. It changes the nature of the program in a fundamental way and starts the eventual disintegration of the compact that holds it all together. But I think Bouie and Kilgore's insight is specifically important because the far right is quite ideological in almost every way. If they have rationalized their support for it, that's something Democratic politicians should understand. If they give the Republicans a chance to play protector of their "earned program" they will be very, very foolish. There is no voting constituency for that in any party.
Kilgore sees a dark possibility, however, if the Republicans decide to turn this into a wedge issue among themselves. He sees a dynamic where Perry is blamed for protecting immigrants over the good Real Americans who have earned their benefits and creating an us vs. them dynamic. But that just seems like a slightly more explicit appeal than they've been making for 40 years --- it's always about taking the hard earned money of decent Americans and giving it to the "wrong" ones. I think I might enjoy seeing the GOP tear each other apart over this one for once.
I believe that political rewards will go to the politician of either party who figures out how to reassure the American people of one simple fact --- that their earned benefits are secure and enough. It's not actually hard to do it, but they need to jettison all the demagoguery and austerity nonsense and stop believing they need make human sacrifices to their market gods. It can be done. Indeed, Democrats used to win office handily with that message.