An American Editor

December 24, 2010

A Boost to My Pocketbook, But a Pain in My Heart

Filed under: Politics — Rich Adin @ 8:14 am
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The recently enacted tax extension compromise was good for my pocketbook but bad for my children’s future and thus worries me greatly. It also makes me worry about the backbone of our Democrat politicians.

Why does it make me worry? Because of the 2% reduction in the employee Social Security contribution.

Let’s consider history a moment. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt introduced Social Security legislation, it has been under attack from the conservative right. The reasons have varied but ultimately it boils down to what distinguishes Republicans from Democrats: Republicans believe that the only safety net that government should provide is for the wealthy, a class they dream of joining, whereas Democrats believe there should be a safety net for those who are not wealthy and never will be wealthy. This is a fundamental philosophical difference and one that will become a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon in the Congress soon to be seated.

Over the years the right’s attack on Social Security has been thwarted. The most recent defeat was the plan to privatize a portion of Social Security. Can you imagine the mess most of us would be in had that plan come to fruition a few years ago? But now the Democrats have helped drive the first nail into the coffin of Social Security as a safety net. If there is one thing that can be said about Democrat politicians, it is that they are clueless.

Remember when the Bush-era tax cuts were enacted by the Republicans? What was the key to getting the tax cuts passed? It was the assertion that the cuts were temporary and would expire. The U.S. treasury would not lose those hundreds of billions of dollars forever. I suppose another key was the fanciful and fantasy belief that by giving the wealthy more money to spend, it would all trickle down to the middle and poor classes. Trickle is not what I would call what occurred; I feel more like a Robert Maplethorpe exhibit than the recipient of wealthy largesse.

So here the tax cuts are set to expire and what is the Republican hue and cry? To not extend the tax cuts would be a tax increase and they are adamantly opposed to a tax increase — even if just on millionaires and billionaires. I have to tell you how glad I am that the Republicans fought so bravely to maintain the wealthy’s ability to have both winter and summer homes and a Tiffany Christmas. But that is beside the point.

The point is that 42 Republicans stood together, united in refusing to do any of the countries business unless the wealthy got their tax cuts extended, with the preference that they be made permanent. What do you think will happen next year when the Social Security tax cut is supposed to expire?

It is like a perfect storm in the sense that the Republicans, with the help of Democrats, can accomplish two goals in by casting one stone. How better can they destroy Social Security for the future than to deprive it of finding, just as they plan to do to the health care reform measures. And when Democrats howl about how Social Security will be under financial threat, the Republicans will stand tall and united yet again in opposition to anything that smacks of a rise in taxes, which returning the Social Security tax rate to its 6.2% level would clearly be.

Of course there is the possibility that Republicans won’t object because basically the tax is a regressive tax on the middle- and low-income classes, not on the wealthy, but I doubt it. I expect that at some point the Democrats will realize they have been snookered yet again and my generation will be the last generation to collect Social Security as a safety net in old age.

I am always amazed at how ruthless Republicans can be and hapless Democrats are; I keep hoping that Democrats will suddenly get hit over the head with the frying pan and it will jostle their minds sufficiently to see that if they really want to be champions of the middle and lower classes, they need to give Republicans a dose of their own medicine. Alas, I expect that will never occur because Democrats tend to be leaderless.

This year was the 75th birthday of Social Security; I doubt we will celebrate its 100th.

August 16, 2010

75 Years of Success: Happy Birthday!

Yes, it is 75 years this month since the birth of Social Security, one of America’s most successful social program.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to the home and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, NY, to view the opening exhibit in the museum celebrating 75 years of Social Security. It is an excellent exhibit, as is FDR’s home. A visit to the FDR presidential library and museum is to transport one back to the days of desperate struggle and to discovery of how the charisma of one man and his equally charismatic wife — and their concern for the average American — lead a country from despair to recovery.

Aside from what we learned about the birth of Social Security, we did pick up a few tidbits of presidential history. FDR’s presidential library was the first presidential library and is the only library that was used by a sitting president (it was opened in 1941 and FDR had an office in it that he used).

The house and estate land were owned by FDR’s mother. She died in September 1941 and FDR wore a black armband in memory of his mother. Americans thought, however, that he wore the armband in memory of Pearl Harbor, which took place 3 months later. The house is the house in which FDR was born, grew up, and raised his family. When he died, he willed the house to the National Parks Service, but gave his wife Eleanor, and his children, life estates in the property. Eleanor and the children all agreed to immediately turn the house over to the NPS. When asked about the speed with which she gave up the house, her response was to the effect that the house was Sara Delano Roosevelt (FDR’s mother) and FDR’s house, not her house. (This was borne out by FDR’s refusal to let Eleanor change anything in the house that his mother had done.)

Although there are a lot of rooms (35) and bathrooms (9) in the house, the house is really quite modest and lacks the grandeur that is evident in the Vanderbilt summer house just down the road. There was no room at the home for Secret Service to stay, so they were lodged at the Vanderbilt Mansion, which was also owned by the Park Service.

The Social Security exhibit is a reminder of how desperate lives were in the mid-20th century. Few people had pensions (less than 20% of workers) and most had to live off savings, which were wiped out with the bank failures of the Depression years. The letters written to the Roosevelts are poignant and heart-breaking.

When Social Security was established, it did not cover all Americans. In order to get the necessary votes to pass the legislation, certain classes of workers were excluded, including agricultural workers, most of whom were minorities. Even so, the legislation was challenged in the courts and it was a 5-4 Supreme Court decision (reminiscient of decisions today) that finally affirmed Social Security.

Today, Social Security serves as the safety net for many American workers. In the recession of the past few years, absent Social Security many Americans would starve.

As I left the grounds of FDR’s home, I remarked to my wife that here is an example of the fundamental difference between Democrat and Republican administrations: Democrats prefer to tinker to make things, hopefully, better for all citizens, whereas Republicans prefer to encourage people to stand up for themselves, hopefully to make things better for the individual. Each is right at times, but each is wrong at times. It is knowing when one is right and when one is wrong that is difficult.

Roosevelt gave us Social Security (and the first woman cabinet member who was also responsible for Social Security, Frances Perkins); Truman integrated the armed forces; Eisenhower gave us the interstate highway system, which propelled economic growth; Johnson gave us social equality; Nixon made us a true world player.

Alas, it seems that the greatness of immediate postwar presidents has declined. More recent presidents have been less visionary and more partisan, and perhaps less good for America as a whole. After seeing the exhibit, I have no doubt that politics were as partisan then as they are today. The difference was the leadership qualities and abilities of the president, the ability to transcend partisanship.

Americans should renew their faith in America by visiting the FDR library and museum. FDR brought us a new world, one that still benefits Americans 75 years later. Happy birthday, Social Security!

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