Demagoguing Social Security

The Democrats must know they’re in trouble: they’ve turned to one of their hoariest dodges, demagoguing Social Security. In his weekly radio address yesterday, Barack Obama accused Republicans of scheming to ruin the program:

One thing we can’t afford to do though is privatize Social Security – an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.
A few years ago, we had a debate about privatizing Social Security. And I’d have thought that debate would’ve been put to rest once and for all by the financial crisis we’ve just experienced. I’d have thought, after being reminded how quickly the stock market can tumble, after seeing the wealth people worked a lifetime to earn wiped out in a matter of days, that no one would want to place bets with Social Security on Wall Street; that everyone would understand why we need to be prudent about investing the retirement money of tens of millions of Americans.

How dumb does he think we are? I assume all but the dimmest Americans understand that the government doesn’t “invest [their] retirement money.” If a businessman lied through his teeth like that, he would be guilty of fraud.

But some Republican leaders in Congress don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the past few years. They’re pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall. It’s right up there on their to-do list with repealing some of the Medicare benefits and reforms that are adding at least a dozen years to the fiscal health of Medicare – the single longest extension in history.
That agenda is wrong for seniors, it’s wrong for America, and I won’t let it happen. Not while I’m President. I’ll fight with everything I’ve got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street. Because you shouldn’t be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you’ve worked so hard for – all you’ve earned – at risk.

Have you ever seen a plan for privatizing Social Security that would require anyone to “gamble his Social Security on Wall Street”? I haven’t.
But what’s interesting to me is not that demagoguing Social Security is fraudulent, but rather that it may no longer be effective. This CNN Opinion Research poll finds that, among respondents who are not yet retired, only 39 percent believe that “the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire.” An astonishing 60 percent do not believe that the system will be able to pay them a benefit–which I guess means any benefit.
Those results include respondents all the way up to retirement age. Among those aged 35-49, a whopping 68 percent don’t expect Social Security to pay them a benefit when they retire.
Given those findings, it seems unlikely that the Democrats can make much headway by accusing Republicans of wanting to “gamble” voters’ Social Security taxes.

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