In generalities the point

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In generalities, the point is widely understood. But in this article by Sidney Blumenthal from yesterday, the specifics are assembled together. The point being that nothing President Bush is saying now about Social Security is new. In fact, almost word for word his statements are close to identical to Republican attacks on Social Security from as far back as 1936.

A few examples.

The 1936 Republican platform: “Society has an obligation to promote the security of the people, by affording some measure of protection against involuntary unemployment and dependency in old age. The New Deal policies, while purporting to provide social security, have, in fact, endangered it …the [trust] fund will contain nothing but the government’s promise to pay … [and is] unworkable.”

Goldwater on Social Security from ’64: “It promises more benefits to more people than the incomes collected will provide.”

It’s always been the same. The Trust Fund doesn’t exist. The system is on the verge of bankruptcy. It can’t deliver what it promises. The program should be voluntary.

All that is different now is that a sitting president has chosen to make a showdown over the issue.

I’ve said probably too many times over the last couple days that however they choose to dress it up and whatever sort of compromise they want to present it as, the president’s goal is still phase-out. That’s why he’s invested so much in this politically. And if you want to grasp the stakes of all this — both politically and in terms of policy — just look at the fact that the White House is now redoubling its efforts to push privatization in the face of public opinion which appears to be congealing against them. They understand the consequences of defeat.

Now, you’ll hear from me and others over the coming weeks and months all sorts of different jargon and policy particulars about caps and private accounts and add-on accounts and Trust Funds and rates of return and all the rest of it.

But the terms of this debate are actually pretty straightforward. The president and his supporters want to get the government out of the Social Security business by ending guaranteed benefits. It’s really as simple as that. Not complicated. They’ll put in its place some system of private accounts where you can save money on your own. And if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, it’s your problem.

Social Security is about spreading out the risk and the security by having near-universal participation in one program. That’s what it is. You pay in through the course of your working years and after you retire you receive your guaranteed benefit every month for the rest of your life. It is that issue of guarantee — which, in its nature, only a program like Social Security can provide — which the president and his supporters are trying to do away with, either all at once or in stages.

So take away all of your policy particulars and computations and flow-charts and analyses. And set them to one side. That is the issue at the core of all of this debate. It defines what kind of society we live in. Its future rests in the hands of Senate Democrats. And all manner of honor or infamy is in store for the ones who make the difference.

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