Saving Social Security
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Over the last several months, one of the conversations that's been going on in Washington has been about President Bush's proposal to privatize Social Security.
Yesterday, I had the honor of appearing with James Roosevelt, the grandson of Franklin Roosevelt, to discuss the president's plan. Standing there with Mr. Roosevelt reminded me of just how far our country's politics have shifted in just two generations.
In FDR's America, an America where more and more Americans were finding themselves on the losing end of a new economy with nothing to cushion their fall, our President believed that if we're willing to share even a small amount of life's risks and rewards with each other, then we'll all have the chance to make the most of our God-given potential.
The New Deal gave the laid-off worker a guarantee that he could count on unemployment insurance to put food on his family's table while he looked for a new job. It gave the young man who suffered a debilitating accident assurance that he could count on disability benefits to get him through the tough times. And Franklin Roosevelt's greatest legacy promised the couple who put in a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work that they could retire in comfort and dignity because of Social Security.
This basic concept of social insurance saved American capitalism while also saving millions from a life of poverty and indignity.
Of course, standing there with James Roosevelt also reminded me of how the rhetoric attacking this concept has remained more or less unchanged since Social Security was first signed into law. Then, FDR's opponents were calling it a hoax that would never work, and some even likened it to communism.
Today, we have White House memos that say the following: "For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win - and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country."
That's what this debate is really about for them. It's a continuation of movement after movement that have been trying to get rid of the program for purely ideological reasons since it was first signed into law.
Fortunately, the American people aren't buying it. In the nineteen town hall meetings I've held across the state since I've been elected - many in heavily Republican counties - voters have expressed skepticism about the president's plan. Instead, they'll talk about how Social Security helped an aunt or cousin survive the death of a spouse. How it allowed a disabled nephew live in dignity. How their grandparents relied on their checks every single month. And it's because of these very personal experiences with Social Security that people aren't buying the usual Washington spin.
Now, let me be clear. There are serious problems with Social Security, and Democrats are absolutely united in the desire to strengthen the program and make it solvent for future generations. As I said in the press club, this isn't an issue we want to play politics on. We want to work together with Republicans on this, and I believe we can.
After the Press Club, we attended a rally for Social Security on Capitol Hill. It was a beautiful day, and Democrats in the House and the Senate joined together to pledge unity around strengthening the Social Security system. And as I looked out over the crowd, at the union workers and young people and senior citizens that had gathered there...people of modest means who've worked hard all their lives...people who can't expect golden parachutes or trust funds waiting for them at the twilight of their years...I was encouraged by this visible representation of what's best in America - encouraged by people willing to come together for a cause and participate in their democracy for the good of their country. And if anyone wonders how we'll save Social Security, they have to look no further than the crowd I saw yesterday.