Wednesday, January 12, 2005

On Social Security deform?just say no

Commentary by Betty Bell


Betty Bell

If you could read the layers of my life as an avalanche expert reads a snow pit, you'd be surprised, I think, to see all the weak layers—I haven't always been the quietly competent, informed and concerned, got-the-big-picture person that I became. Nope, all through a string of carefree years I was hopelessly fiscally irresponsible. Never once did I try to get a jump on retirement security, nor did I ever have a flicker of interest in seizing financial opportunities that lay just beyond the horizon. But it wasn't all my fault—I was born genetically handicapped. Completely missing from an otherwise noteworthy strand of genes are the very two that provide access to the Ownership Society—the savvy financial gene, and the gene that piques an interest in the day after tomorrow. But heavens, I didn't give a hoot. I liked my genes, genes that sent me out in pursuit of every pleasure of every day—from never-to-end snow seasons to plan for and hurl myself into, to a zillion summer pleasures to plan for and hurl myself into. If there was a deeper meaning to "seize the day," I didn't know it. And thus, oh so quickly, passed those halcyon years.

Do I wish I'd had those missing genes? Not really. The thing is, you see, even if I'd been dealt that pair, the Intelligent Designer would have had to make sure to recall my little reckless go-for-it gene. And what if the I.D. forgot? For sure, I'd have loaded up on Enron and Worldcom stocks, those sure things a few years back.

Though not a savvy investor, I wasn't a total loss to society. I'd give myself a "C." I worked; I became half of the partnership that created four beloved beings—and once I went to a PTA meeting; I paid taxes, including those that went into something called Social Security, at the time resenting every cent that went into our national insurance policy. Now, how very grateful I am that among us there were—are—fellow citizens who were endowed with the genes that foster communal social responsibility—call it Social Security. How different my life would be without it.

I don't know if you noticed that during the President's last vacation, the first vacation he'd had in weeks, there weren't the usual photo ops. No clips of him hacking away at brush, or splitting firewood, or demonstrating beginner mountain biking skills. There were too many other things on his plate, and there at the ranch a lot of specialized huddles took place: huddles about fine-tuning the inaugural bash...huddles about assembling the State of the Union address by the Party's ultra accomplished assemblers...surely huddles about the albatross, Iraq. But those were the minor huddles—the big huddle surely was about Social Security. With the wonderful enthusiasm and optimism that he ever exudes—enthusiasm and optimism so marked that even Democrats exclaim "That's George, by George!"—the President has decided that deforming Social Security shall be his legacy. And here I thought legacy evolved from the record, not desire.

I haven't seen a guest list at the ranch, but that doesn't keep me from making a jaundiced guess. Likely, it included Progress for America, the group that already has nine million dollars in its coffers to support Social Security privatization and is seeking more; the Conservative Club for Growth; the National Association of Manufacturers; the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which, only coincidentally, operates out of the National Association of Manufacturers' headquarters. It'd be a stretch to imagine any one of those Ownership Society folks checking the mail box the first of every month for his SS check.

If you're wondering if you have the genes for the new Ownership Society, here's a simple test:

·Do you subscribe to Powder magazine--or to Money?

·Do you make a point of reading Mountain Bike--or Forbes?

·Do you buy USA Today and quickly turn to the Sports Section—or do you pick up The Wall Street Journal and check the market?

If you answer as the President so flatteringly assumes you will, then good luck with all those investment opportunities where you can strike it rich and maybe even be a kingpin in the Ownership Society. Go for it. But there're bunches of millions of us who will always think of stock as a herd of cattle, and we're scared silly that the President, given his record, has a fix in mind that'll be oh-so-much worse than the problem.

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