Thursday, September 8, 2011
- The Shrinking Penalty For Frankness
Was there a debate last night? I didn’t notice. Some cable channel or something? Was any one interesting there?
Actually I saw a clip or two this morning on Squawk box. I watched Romney getting firmly behind ‘saving social security’, which since he’s been firmly behind both sides of every other issue, I would expect nothing less from him. And while I recognize that it’s a much more marketable position (or why else would Romney hold it) I don’t’ think Perry’s ‘Ponzi scheme’ position is the political liability the talking heads seem to think it is.
Maybe I’m unique, but for more than 30 years I’ve known that the government was going to screw me when it came to Social Security. I knew that when it was time to collect there would be some story. “No no,” they’d say, “we know you paid in like everyone else, but we meant that it was really just for minorities, or just for poor people, or just for people who are not like you. We’re terribly sorry you misunderstood, but… there it is.”
I’ve been expecting that talk from them for so long that anything else would genuinely surprise me. I don’t know when precisely it’s coming, but I don’t expect it to be handled in a speech. I expect it to be a form letter, followed by a phone call where some faceless officious bureaucrat tells me to F-off, in so many words. They’ll deliver the news individually, to just the people who they’ve decided don’t warrant the benefit any longer. They'll be careful not to let it snowball into a political groundswell.
When the government takes money from my paycheck, I think of it as stolen. I think of a government official shaking me down for a piece of the action like some supporting character from the Sopranos. They’ll allow me to drive on their roads and will send a police car by to fill out a form if if some liberal throws a brick through my window, but that’s really it. I get (and according to them am only entitled to) an absolute minimum of government service. And the vast majority of the money they take from me will simply be given to someone else, who they believe 'deserves it' more than I do. That's the way of the world in 21st century America.
Rick Perry is being criticized for saying that Social Security is Ponzi scheme... but I think that’s a technically correct characterization. What’s more, I don’t think saying so is the political liability that some people believe. If you're like me and you don't really expect to get anything for your money except a form letter and excuses, who cares what you call it? The truth is, we already know what it is. Just because Perry treats we citizens with enough dignity to tell us the truth doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s any more likely to deny us a benefit than anyone else. More than anything that issue will be decided by demographics and math.
I think in this election cycle there will be less of a benefit for saying the pretty but empty words, and less of a penalty for saying the hard truth than there has even been in my lifetime. I think the American people are thoroughly sick of being told what politicians think they want to hear. I think Christie has figured that out, and although it’s angered the press, it has not been received badly by the people. And if a politician can say the kind of things in NJ that Christie has without getting crucified, then calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme will play just fine in Peoria.
Remember, there are more people out there who believe exactly what I do on this topic. I believe that all that social security money has been stolen from me. When it comes time to pay me, all I’ll get is excuses. That’s my expectation. It's tragic that I get such a raw deal from my government, but to be honest, I'm getting used to it. And if someone running for president actually admits that to me, that alone may be enough to get me to vote for him.