April 10, 2005

Newt's Strategy

Maybe he’s jealous of all the attention Tom Delay is getting, or maybe he wants to be remembered as something other than a stooge on Da Ali G Show. Whatever the reason, Newt Gingrich is baaack. He thinks Bush is doing a piss-poor job selling privatization of Social Security, so he provided some free advice by agency of the Washington Post:

Bush and the Hill need to start over with "a narrowly focused, very directed, very specific campaign" aimed at people under 40.

"I recommend they take a deep breath, step back, launch a new campaign in which the urgency is the fact that every day that you fail to pass it, every young person in America loses the interest for the rest of their lifetime on that day's savings," Gingrich said.

Karl Rove must not be returning his phone calls if Newt has to resort to on-the-record, off-the-reservation commentary. But is his unsolicited advice to fellow Republicans unsound?

The administration privatization strategy is divide and conquer: tell older people that Social Security will persist with no changes, and tell young people that it can’t last so it must be changed. The administration has gotten itself into a twist, however, because on one hand Bush has admitted that private accounts won’t solve Social Security’s long-term solvency problem, but on the other hand his political base requires that private accounts be the “solution.” Given this contradiction, you can understand why young people aren’t clamoring for private accounts.

What’s more, some of them have become convinced that the pension program is a downright sham. For them, private accounts look like a silly half-measure. They have heard that Social Security won’t be able to pay them and that the trust fund is full of worthless IOUs. At this point, they’re ready to do away with the whole damn thing.

Here’s an example. I got into a discussion with Travis Benning, a blogger who is a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who read “The Right to Remain Silent,” and dissed it. (When blogging, you have a chance to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.) After a little banter on his site, he kindly called me “a worthy blogger” but proceeded to explain that he would like to abolish the Robin Hoodish program once and for all.

Travis’s blog is not the only young voice calling for the abolition of Social Security. You can find similar sentiments on a multitude of blogs and college campuses. And though I first thought that the Santorum-serenading College Republicans had been absent the day the talking points were handed out, they were probably expressing what they really felt – “Social Security has got to go!”

I once felt this way, too. In elementary school, we talked about a “crisis” as young members of Future Problem Solvers of America (or, “geeks”). Later, when I was a teenager, Reagan was running huge deficits, and there was a sense that something had to give. For what I read in the newspaper, I concluded that Social Security wouldn’t be around when I retired. I was earning minimum wage bussing tables and Social Security was already taking a cut, which I would presumably never again touch. I was thus in the Ditch It camp.

But now, having seen the first “crisis” in my lifetime resolved relatively painlessly, I believe there are non-destructive solutions that will enable the program to stay useful and solvent, and to pay me back when I retire. That’s typical: the older you get, the more faith you have in our pension system. Retirees have always been pleasantly surprised to receive their Social Security checks. And once they start getting the checks they realize how important the system is, and then they want it to be around for their grandchildren. That’s why Newt suggests targeting youth rather than Grandma and Grandpa.

But since some youth are calling for the abolition of the whole program, divide and conquer may prove risky. Young voters don’t decide elections if they did, Kerry would be president. And Republican strategists know that admitting they want to abolish Social Security is a losing proposition.

So, boring as it is, the Gingrich tactic of focusing on the relative amount of interest that private accounts may one day generate may be the best message privatizers have left. Unfortunately for them, it’s complicated to explain, easy to refute, and vulnerable to the whims of the stock market. If that’s the best they’ve got left, it’s no wonder Mr. Rove doesn’t have time to return Newt’s phone calls.

By Will Friedman in Politics, Social Security | Permalink  | 


Jon Stewart did a quick riff on ol' Newt last night about how he is speaking about his "inspirational story" in Las Vegas, at some event sandwiched between concerts of Dokken and Ratt. (actually I can't remember which bands, so I picked the ones with the silliest names, but they were definitely both lame 80's metal-hair bands. Oops. No offense to lame 80's metal-hair band lovers.)

Do you get The Daily Show in France? It would be nice to think that some Europeans are watching translations of this show, and realizing that we are not all raving redneck a--holes.

Posted by: dks | Apr 12, 2005 5:13:33 PM

In France and the UK we can only watch The Daily Show over the Internet - which is better than not getting it at all! We should lobby for translations into Cockney rhyming slang. "In other news, Ukraine's President Yushenko is sporting new Gregory Pecks!"

Posted by: Will | Apr 13, 2005 1:49:14 AM

Good comments. What people don't understand, however, is that if the stockmarket were to fold or actually lose money for a retiree after 30 years, then the economy would be in such a shambles that everyone would be broke....including the government.

Posted by: Rob | Apr 14, 2005 2:17:00 AM

What people don't understand is that SS was scam when it was enacted and it's a scam today. It was enacted when few enough people lived long enough to collect benefits. Today it's used to mask deficit spending. In the future the next generation will get to pay in taxes for redeeming the bonds in the worthless trust fund and funding senior retirement. Seniors, who for the most part will be much better off than the young adults paying the SS taxes. Sound great doesn't it?

Unfortunately the political reality is that we can't be rid of SS in the near term. But, we can start down that road via partial privatization. Think of it as "for the children". Or, maybe become mature enough to realize that Uncle Sam isn't Santa.
IIRC Bush never claimed that partial privatization would cure what ails SS. It was the first part of a reform package.

Posted by: RWing Nut | May 5, 2005 11:02:13 AM

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"Here’s an example. I got into a discussion with Travis Benning, a blogger who is a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who read “The Right to Remain Silent,” and dissed it. (When blogging, you have a chance to interact with people you... [Read More]

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