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Robbery: The Passionate Fashion of the Swells

What a hell of a heaven it will be when they get all these hypocrites assembled there!

Mark Twain

It is all the fashion in Washington, D.C. One simply must sport a terrible dislike for Social Security and wish with all one’s heart that the money be given instead to the very, very rich, where it will become, I guess, High Society Security.

I stipulate the conforming demands of fashion up there where the air is thin and the nervous, “I’m-I-in-or-out?” insecurity is thicker than in junior high cliques. Still, if the swells need fashion symbols, why can’t they just take a renewed liking to jodhpurs or something?

Of course, it is necessary for all the independent, innovate and courageous minds in power to all think exactly the same thing. This is how they demonstrate their independence. It’s a great trick of the courtier:  make absolute conformity look like iconoclasm.

For years I’ve been receiving those wonderful notices from Social Security that tell me how much I’ve earned since my first teen-age, tax-paying job as a busboy so many years ago. The letter tells me how much I’ve invested in my Social Security account, and how much and when I can be paid back that investment. These notices make me smile for three reasons:  they give me a sense of future financial security; I am proud that I paid the money into my Social Security account; and, I am glad that all my fellow citizens can feel the same way.

Then, in the wake of the Right’s decades-long crusade against the elderly, come Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a couple of selfish pricks who’ve left the penthouse cocktail party long enough to give us their oh-so-sober and courageous prescription:  tax cuts for the richest of the rich; tax increases and cuts in Social Security for the middle class.

Social Security was born with a target on it, of course. Any program through which Americans take care of one another is anathema to the hard right. To their dismay, Social Security performed. Fewer elderly Americans died in the gutters. Last years could be lived in some dignity and safety. And it wasn’t a hand-out. Like the Beatles sang, in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.

But the success of Social Security enraged the hard right. And in recent years they’ve succeeded in recruiting others. So now it’s all the fashion. But fashion must always be irrational, unpredictable and totally unnecessary. It can’t be fashionable to breathe, because we have to breathe to live. It can be fashionable to wear a skinny tie this year because, well, who gives a damn.

The gangbang of social security is such a fashion, with a critical difference. It’s like a new, skinny tie. If you don’t wear it, you aren’t taken seriously in serious circles. The critical difference? This is a fashion with tragic human consequences. They’re not going to wear this particular skinny tie. They’re going to hang the American middle class with it.

All of us know the truth:  there is no Social Security crisis. We hear often about aging boomers and a day of reckoning in the 2037 or ’47 or whenever. Many experts say that’s pishposh. Many others say that kind of reckoning will never come.

President Bush wanted to privatize Social Security so his Wall Street friends (who, it turned out, were busy destroying the world economy) could get their hands on all that cash. That didn’t work. We didn’t let the government give Wall Street hucksters the right to earn billions “managing” our private accounts. Now the powers want to slash our earned – earned! – retirement savings and give them instead to the rich in the form of tax cuts. Either way, it’s a massive transfer of wealth to the already wealthy.

You know who has benefited most from deficit spending? The very, very rich. They don’t really care if we borrow or not, so long as they are either doing the lending or are guaranteed the borrowed money will be given to them.

Remember when the right used to fret that the poor would “vote themselves the Treasury” if government provided assistance? That was never the danger, of course. The danger came from a democracy so corrupted by money and weakened by constant attacks on its key features – free and true universal suffrage, for instance – that the rich would vote themselves the Treasury. And that is exactly what they have done.

Money we have – even the modest Social Security payments promised to me for my later years – is money they don’t have, and they simply can’t stand the thought of that.

It was painful to watch the post-’92 Bill Clinton, starved for voter affection, secure for himself a kind of political food stamp by denying to millions of hard-luck Americans the bare necessities provided by welfare as we knew it. If President Obama and other Democrats go along with any part of this attack on the greatest cooperative social safety net in human history, I can only begin by quoting that great drill sergeant-therapist in the Geico ad:

“You know what makes me sad? YOU do! Maybe we should chug on over to namby-pamby land where maybe we can find some self-confidence for you, you jackwagon.”

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith