Monday :: Jan 31, 2005

Social Security and the 70-Year Reactionary Compulsion

by rayman

There's been a good deal of speculation in liberal blogland over the true purpose of the administration's Social Security privatization scheme. Given that perennial Democratic pushovers like Max Baucus and Evan Bayh have expressed opposition, and with the Republican Congressional caucus unable to muster any unity, chances of the phase-out plan being passed look increasingly slim. What then, is the driving force behind the Republican plan? Although some argue this is all an elaborate bait-and-switch, the issue is much less convoluted; although many of us have noted the ideological dimension to the Social Security battle, I believe this is the key battleground. Here's an illuminating article by Slate's Daniel Gross regarding the ghost of FDR in the ongoing debate:

Dead going on 60 years, FDR still makes self-styled champions of American-style capitalism fulminate, much the same way their counterparts in the 1930s raged against "That Man." Why? The New Deal era reminds national greatness Republicans like Wehner of their party's futility in a time of true national greatness. I also suspect that many Republicans are simply unable to forgive Roosevelt for what may have been his greatest and longest-lasting achievement: saving American capitalism through regulation. And since they can't tear down the Triborough Bridge or the Hoover Dam, these guys act out by going after Social Security.


The theory that new taxes and regulation would inevitably hamper economic growth and destroy America exerted a powerful hold on the minds of the business establishment and the economic right in the 1930s—just as it does today. FDR's proposals seemed to fly in the face of everything these experts knew about how the economy works. In particular, FDR upended the hallowed equation: taxes and regulation equals tyranny and depression.

But a funny thing happened on the road to serfdom. FDR may have gone too far on occasion. He was great, not perfect. And the consumer-based economy that defines our age emerged only after World War II. But the economy did come back to life. Gross domestic product rose 90 percent between 1933 and 1941. Far from turning the United States into a Western version of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, the New Deal allowed the United States to function as the world's bulwark against both. The institutions that stood at the heart of the American experiment—representative democracy, the separation of powers, a system of managerial capitalism, liquid capital markets—survived in a world gone mad.

It's difficult to discern the short-term political gain for Republicans to try to dismantle Social Security now. So the payoff must be more psychological or intellectual. Now that they indisputably control all three branches of government, Republicans finally have the opportunity to slay some of the liberal demons that have been bedeviling them for so long.

This, folks, is what the Social Security battle is all about, and Gross does a superb job laying out this eternal pathology of the American Right. Our goal shouldn't be simply to beat back this latest attempt to kill off Social Security, but to also reinvigorate the egalitarian-minded capitalism that is the talisman of progressives past, present, and future.* In this regard, Republicans have handed us a perfect opportunity, one that we should exploit to the fullest.

* I apologize for the flowery prose.

rayman :: 4:14 PM :: Comments (14) :: Digg It!