Social Insecurity—President Bush keeps pushing his Social Security privatization plan, but with a declining chance of passage. Democratic opponents call it “Bushonomics” and a “piratization scheme” that fits what George W.’s father once called “voodoo economics.”
The debate has spurred a new vocabulary among Democrats—”chicanery,” “deception,” “subterfuge” and “trickery” that they say is designed to undo the most memorable triumph of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 70-year-old New Deal. We heard one elderly Democrat accuse Bush of proposing a “screw deal”—and not a “better deal, but a political bettor deal.”
The nonpartisan American Academy of Actuaries says that Bush and his partisans are misleading the public that the Social Security system “is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated.”
Bush & Co. say that Social Security faces an $11 trillion deficit. But the independent insurance gurus of the A.A.A. say that this claim is “likely to mislead” the public.
Likely to? The actuaries say that over the next 75 years the shortfall is actually projected to be $3.7 trillion. Bad enough, but an increase in the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax, paid half and half by workers and their employers, to 15.9 percent would fix that. And beyond that, although the tax-cutting Bush advocates can’t stand the idea of raising the taxes of the wealthy, increasing the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax, now limited to $90,000, would resolve most of the shortage.
We haven’t seen it anywhere in print, but on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown program on MSNBC-TV we heard that Bush, in his failed Texas campaign for Congress in 1978, said that Social Security “would go bust in 10 years” unless there was some way for people to invest their Social Security tax money. It didn’t “go bust” in 1988, and now Bush is saying that its “bankruptcy” will come in 2052!
Bush wants to privatize Social Security, but he has no mandate for it. During his State of the Union speech the chorus of shouted “no’s” from Democrats made the House chamber sound like Britain’s noisy Parliament.
Louder than that is the criticism of the new Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, that Bush’s Social Security and budget gimmicks bring “Enron-style accounting to the nation’s capital, and demonstrates once again what all Americans are now beginning to see—you cannot trust Republicans with your money.”
The Dean-ocratic Party—It seemed an improbable political comeback, but Dr. Howard Dean, the former physician, former governor of Vermont, and former contender for the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nomination, has now been unanimously and enthusiastically elected as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He is billed as the first failed presidential contender to become a party chairman, and that may not be the only novelty.
The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who says he is “no Deaniac,” has put Dean’s appeal this way: “Democrats know Dean’s chairmanship will be a hell of a ride, but they’re willing to take some risks to get off the road to nowhere.”
Even Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, issued a statement saying that Dean’s “energy and passion will add to the political discourse in this country, and he will be a strong leader for his party.”
Dean plans more cooperation with, and soliciting the support of, the Democrats’ state party chairmen, and says he will soon begin by touring the Republican “red states” in the South and West, starting in Mississippi.
Not all red states are rock solid Republican. Some squinty-eyed examiners of the 2004 electorate are underlining Montana, a “scarlet” state where voters went strongly for Bush but at the same time elected a Democratic governor for the first time in 16 years and took the state senate from Republican-majority control.
For the new DNC chairman there are a few other nominally encouraging signs. One is that right-winger Newt Gingrich’s new book Winning the Future is being outsold by a liberal clergyman’s plea for Democrats to “take back the faith” from Republicans, who seem to have hijacked evangelical voters.
The better selling book is God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine. His book now stands at number 4 on the New York Times best-seller list, while the Gingrich screed trails at number 8.