by Nicholas Wilbur (MuddyPolitics.com)
In any other election, a presidential candidate who isolated the senior citizen demographic by attacking Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” would be deemed unelectable by the media, disowned by their party and tarred and feathered by the base.
Not Rick Perry. Not this Republican Party. Not today’s conservatives. Instead, they’ve invited him over for tea.
Rather than retreat from the provocative language, which even Karl Rove said was “toxic” for a presidential contender, the Texas governor doubled down on his claim during the Sept. 7 GOP primary debate.
“It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, ‘You’re paying into a program that’s going to be there,’ ” he said. “Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.”
He did it again during the Sept. 12 debate.
Not surprisingly, reporters, broadcasters and bloggers on the Left were appalled at the claim, and they went to work immediately trying to correct it.
After the Sept. 7 debate, Media Matters ran the headline, “Social Security Is Not A Ponzi Scheme.”
In The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen wrote a similar post titled, “It’s not a Ponzi scheme.”
Teresa Ghilarducci, the chair of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research, wrote a piece in The New York Times, “Social Security is Not a Fly-by-Night Ponzi Scheme,” in which she clarified that “A Ponzi scheme is a short-term criminal enterprise. Social Security is a rock-solid social insurance program that protects millions of Americans.”
In The Washington Post, Jonathan Bernstein wrote a piece titled, “Perry’s Ponzi Scheme Rhetoric,” in which he said, “Perry either doesn’t understand Social Security, doesn’t understand Ponzi schemes or is simply not telling the truth.”
WAPO’s Ezra Klein included a Venn diagram in his article explaining the differences between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme.
And Lawrence O’Donnell went so far as to say, “It is impossible to win a presidential election in America while demonizing Social Security.”
Unfortunately for liberal pundits, journalists, analysts and other truth seekers, what they think, say and write doesn’t matter – particularly to conservatives. They should know by now that their viewpoints mean nothing to rightwingers, even if what they say is completely, unequivocally true.
Conservatives today believe The New York Times is a bastion of socialism. It’s safe to say that Media Matters won’t be a primary source of information for them. Of the sources that do influence their opinion, this is what conservatives woke up to the morning after the primary debate.
In The American Prospect, Catholic World Report editor George Neumayr said “(Mitt) Romney, though smooth enough for most of the debate, played a dangerous game by cheap-shotting Perry on Social Security.
How dare Perry call Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” said Romney, who presented himself as a champion of Social Security and Perry as a destroyer of it. But Social Security is a Ponzi scheme for the young and Perry properly stood by his remark and calls for Social Security reform.
In The National Review, Hadley Arkes, the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, said of Perry: “He didn’t budge from the claim that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme, and everyone knew that there won’t be enough money to pick up the obligations that will be accumulating.”
Also in The National Review, Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos wrote that “his Ponzi-scheme caricature of Social Security, despite the upcoming media furor, won’t hurt him – because Americans know it is true: There is no ‘fund’ in the Social Security Fund, just a bankrupt, intergenerational transfer of wealth.”
The headline on Townhall.com read, “Calling Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’ isn’t radical, it’s the truth.”
Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), though much softer in his presentation of his viewpoint, supported Perry’s stance: “I think that the point the governor is trying to make is the math doesn’t lie and the numbers don’t add up.”
Sarah Palin backed Perry’s call for ending “the status quo” of these “insolvent” programs. Former Fox News psychobabbler Glenn Beck said, “Perry was right.” And Rush Limbaugh asked the rhetorical question on his radio show, “If (Social Security) isn’t a Ponzi scheme, what is it?”
In a short, conservatives agreed.
Surprisingly, so did many in the mainstream media.
After the debate, NBC ran the headline “SC retirees agree with Perry on Social Security as Ponzi scheme.”
ABC published a report titled, “Picking Apart the ‘Ponzi Scheme’: Is Rick Perry Right?” which stated that, “While Perry’s choice of words may not be completely accurate, they are not entirely off-base either.”
Young people are paying into a system with the promise of receiving retirement benefits later in life when, in fact, the system in its current form may not be able to pay those benefits starting in 2036.
Even the liberal Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, admitted after the GOP debate that, “It is a Ponzi scheme in the sense that the money that’s paid out every day is coming from people who paid in that day.”
Far from being the extreme, politically suicidal gaffe some thought it would be, Perry’s provocative Ponzi scheme rhetoric actually is being embraced – and embraced most of all by the conservative media outlets whose readers will pick the next Republican nominee.
The back and forth over Social Security only further convinced the constituencies on the Right and Left what those respective constituencies already believed: that Social Security is/isn’t a Ponzi scheme.
This may be the new reality in a politically polarized America, but for liberals who are expected to elevate political issues beyond the talking points and frameworks of Republican demagogues, they failed miserably – and I believe they will continue to fail for three reasons: First, because all ideologues are hard-headed, and the current “base” of the Republican Party is full of ideologues; secondly, because facts that don’t align with a party’s agenda aren’t facts at all; and lastly, because it takes only one liberal to admit publicly that there are similarities between a Ponzi scheme and Social Security, and when that liberal concedes, as Matthews did, it opens a small but fatal chink in the Left’s armor that conservatives will exploit until everyone knows that “Liberals agree,” in this case, “that it’s a Ponzi scheme.”
The Left missed the point – and a great opportunity to actually elevate the debate.
Comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, even if the comparison is intended to show how Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme, is still comparing Social Security to a fraudulent scam. It relies on a Republican framework – Perry’s framework – and it criminalizes Social Security from the start.
Who cares what Perry thinks?
How a Tea Partier defines Social Security is irrelevant. The future of the program is the issue. And that should be the framework.
Rather than battling over a definition coined by a crank, the Left needs to focus on what Social Security would become under a President Perry – or a President Romney. Despite the two candidates’ differences in rhetoric, both believe in “fixes” that lead to the program’s demise.
Both Perry and Romney have voiced their support for creating private, individual social insurance accounts – which Romney claimed in 2007 is different from “privatization,” even if it isn’t different at all. Rather than minor tweaks, which is all that will be required to extend the longevity of a program that has already worked for three-quarters of a century, Republicans prefer scrapping the entire point of Social Security: the security part.
Whereas Democrats understand the moral imperative of maintaining a program that for 75 years has helped keep senior citizens out of poverty, Republicans, in contrast, believe that if you live past a certain age and run out of the money you paid into a private retirement account, oh well. You can “live in a gutter,” as Limbaugh put it.
That is the difference between Republicans and Democrats, and that is the comparison liberals and Democrats ought to be making. Publicly. Not terms and definitions and contrasting arguments about slight similarities that even Chris Matthews can’t quite pin down, but the heartlessness of forcing senior citizens to “live in a gutter” if they live too long, if they are injured as working adults, if their spouses die, or if they’re otherwise unable to work long enough to build up a sufficient savings. Social Security is not a retirement account, it’s an anti-poverty program that provides some dignity to seniors.
Rather than letting the Right frame the argument over Social Security by forcing the Left into a battle over semantics, the Left needs to refocus the issue to its core by asking the question, “Do you believe seniors living in gutters is the future of ‘social security’?”
Privatization is the one plan both GOP frontrunners have embraced as a long-term fix to Social Security.
And that’s an argument the Left can win.
– via MuddyPolitics.com