By Hugh Newton
If Republicans are smart (and the book is still open on this), they’ll do everything they can over the next two years to entice Democrats to attack the GOP’s Social Security reform ideas.
While a single election doesn’t mark a trend, by any means, there is ample evidence that the old lies just don’t sell anymore. The Democrats’ election-year demagoguery backfired big time this year.
So Republican strategists should dare the Democrats to maintain the drumbeat. Then double dare them. Goad them into telling seniors that the Republicans are out to destroy Social Security. Goad them into attacking the GOP’s “scary” privatization “schemes.” After all, there’s election gold in them there lies. Right?
Wrong. The 2002 congressional elections showed clearly that when Republicans stand firm, the Democrats’ rhetoric is exposed for what it is: a cowardly and disingenuous attempt to scare America’s most vulnerable citizens.
Frankly, most seniors have had enough of this rubbish. We know there isn’t a single member of Congress of either party who wants to destroy — or weaken — Social Security. We know our benefits are safe. We know the GOP reform plan won’t affect us one bit; it’s to help our grandchildren. If nothing else, we know something has to be done to prevent the program’s financial collapse. And we know that the Democrats have offered nothing to the debate but criticism of the Republicans.
So on Election Day we sent the Democrats a message: enough already. If you have a plan, we want to see it.
In every House and Senate race where the Democrats tried to club their opponent on Social Security, they failed. This was true across the board, and across the country — from Florida’s so-called Gold Coast district, where 40 percent of voters are 55 or older, to the Tar Heel State, North Carolina, where Social Security reform advocate Elizabeth Dole handily defeated Clinton attack dog Erskine Bowles for the Senate seat of retiring Jesse Helms. As The Wall Street Journal said in a mid-November editorial, “Maybe it’s time for Democrat’s to realize they aren’t going to win back their majorities by recycling their scare-Grandma campaigns from 1964.”
As a result of the November elections, the Republicans are now in control, with a reform-minded President in the White House and majorities in both the House and Senate. The President’s Social Security Reform commission has laid out three reasonable options for bringing the 67-year-old program into the 21st century.
While the democrats need to show that they have something meaningful to contribute to the debate, the Republicans now need to show that they’re more than just talk, they need to stop talking and start fixing.
We don’t need another bipartisan Social Security reform commission to waste more time and money and don’t need additional “focus group” con artists to explain that people get warm and fuzzy feelings when you talk about Social Security “personal accounts” but react differently when you use the more technical term “privatization.”
What we need now are leaders who are willing and able to lead. Leaders who have the courage to tell the truth about the costs and benefits — both of which will be substantial — of reform. Men and women of vision and courage who can see beyond next month’s benefit checks.
It would help too if our leaders took a look at what’s happening all over the world — in recent years Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Mexico, Columbia, Poland and Hungary have partially privatized their social security systems. The most recent is Germany, which earlier this year legislatively adopted a partial system of personal accounts for workers. France is now considering a similar move and China and Russia, I kid you not, are looking at this option.
Reforming the Social Security system so it’s viable and healthy when our grandchildren retire 50 and 60 years from now will require the expenditure of billions of dollars. But make no mistake: Allowing the paralysis to continue will cost even more.
Our choice is to make the investment now, while it is still possible to modernize the program, or to pay for a massive bailout later.
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Hugh C. Newton, a veteran Washington communications executive, is a political consultant to many conservative policy groups including the 60 Plus Association, a grassroots senior citizens’ group and BAMPAC, Black America’s Political Action Committee.