Normally, my political op-eds have nothing to do with my personal life. This one will be different.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded in getting the Social Security system written into law, there was considerable consternation among persons of a conservative bent. The program was unprecedented in every respect. It taxed working people without reference to any present-time need for the money. It taxed employers as well, for daring to be employers. And of course, the nature of the ultimate benefit to be provided was both dubious – the average lifespan of an American worker was 65 – and nebulous – there were no statutory specifications for the payments to be made.
Yet FDR was proud of his accomplishment, for political reasons. By instituting a tax predicated on the provision of the benefit, he’d achieved something no previous politician had equaled: he’d created a system whose beneficiaries, having compulsorily paid into it for the whole of their working lives, would never agree to the repeal of the system. He boasted about exactly that.
The same is the case for Lyndon’ Johnson’s signature “Great Society” atrocity, Medicare. With 1.25% of Americans’ paychecks going to Medicare lifelong, the pressure to keep the system running (and therefore taxing) is incredibly strong. Never mind that every dollar taxed for either system is immediately borrowed and spent by the federal government. Never mind that the SocSec benefit is still statutorily undefined, or that in the face of ever-rising costs and ever-shrinking Medicare reimbursements more and more medical practitioners are “opting out” of the system. Both programs appear to be invulnerable to political antagonism despite their faults.
And now, owing to the advent of my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m a prisoner of both.
I’m not wealthy. I have substantial savings, but without SocSec disbursements those savings wouldn’t last very long, at least here in New York. Moreover, I have several chronic medical conditions that require frequent doctor’s visits and considerable pharmaceutical remediation. So like it or not, I’ve found myself compelled to accept the “benefits” of two federal programs I’ve opposed ever since I first learned about them.
I’ve agonized over it. Could I refuse my SocSec payments? Yes, if I were to relocate off Long Island (to which my wife is bitterly opposed). Could I decline to get involved with Medicare? No, for firms that write medical insurance policies won’t permit it. Yet I still oppose both programs politically. Promises or no, they’re founded on an evil premise and should be repealed.
But President Donald Trump, whom I’ve come to like and approve very much, has pledged himself to the continuation and sustenance of those programs. Glory be to God! If anyone should understand their perniciousness, Trump would be he. But keeping faith with “the deal” strikes him as more important.
So how does one argue against those programs while accepting the benefits from them? With considerable difficulty. Leftist supporters of those programs play the argumentum ad hominem card almost before the first sentence has left my lips. “Would you be willing to forfeit those benefits if you could see them abolished?” they ask. I reply “Yes, I would.” And of course their rejoinder is “Suuuuuurrrre you would,” with the appropriate eye-rolling and dismissive smirk.
There isn’t much that will offend me to the point of violence, but the denigration of my integrity will do it every time.
“The personal is political,” say the Leftists. They’d surely like it to be so. By forcing the snout of government into ever more areas of human life, they’ve edged rather close to that goal. As America has “grayed,” the pressure on the federal and state governments to “keep their promises,” even to expand upon their benefits, has risen in tandem. There’s even talk of creating a program to guarantee Americans’ retirement. Social Security and Medicare have returned to “political third rails,” which no one dares to touch.
It’s no use denying the realities. These programs are just about guaranteed to outlive me, and possibly you as well, Gentle Reader. The reluctance of even the most conservative legislators to discuss changes to them is enormous. I can envision a path to dismantling them:
“Jerry sent his Social Security phase-out plan over yesterday,” [Sumner] said. “I like the approach he took. The payroll tax ends at once. Mandatory buy-outs for everyone under forty-five, voluntary but enhanced buy-outs for anyone over forty-five except for those already collecting, all buy-outs to be paid out over the next five years. We can afford it now that the budget is in surplus. But it’s a big step to take in the middle of a re-election campaign.”
[Adrienne Sumner] smirked. “The third rail of American politics.”
“Roosevelt designed it to be that way. There’s no way to undo it without pissing off a lot of people. Even Jerry’s approach, which ought to satisfy anyone’s just claim against the system, will draw a lot of fire. The senior citizens’ groups are bound to moan about ‘retiree income security,’ as if they had it now.”
...but few real-life politicians have the courage or moral fortitude of Stephen Graham Sumner.