The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “SOCIAL SECURITY WORKS! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All” by Nancy J. Altman and Eric R. Kingson from Chapter 12 “Passing Social Security Forward: A Legacy For All Generations” on page 200 and I quote: “Social Security didn’t just happen. Past generations have worked tirelessly to create and improve our Social Security system. They fought for it, defended it, safeguarded it, expanded it, and passed it forward, stronger than before, as a legacy to all of us, young and old alike. Now it is our turn.
Everyone who cares about the economic security of his or her family has a stake in this cause. Everyone who cares about what kind of nation we leave for our children and grandchildren has a stake.
How do we successfully build on the legacy that has been bequeathed to us, leaving it even better for the generations that follow? In short, how do we get our elected officials—who, after all, work for us—to vote to expand Social Security?
We already have some very dedicated and powerful senators and members of Congress championing the cause of expansion, but we need more of them. Getting the right people elected is tricky. All politicians these days claim to support Social Security. All say that their goal is to strengthen or save it. We cannot be satisfied with platitudes. We must demand more.
Electing more champions won’t be done without knowledge, commitment, perseverance, and action. It won’t be done without vision backed by the values that we all share. It won’t be done without politics and policies that put the American people first. And, it won’t be done without a fight. Nor will the fight be an easy one. There is too much money on the side of those who want to dismantle our Social Security system. But we have growing numbers of emerging champions calling for expansion. They cannot win on their own, however. They need our help, just as past champions did.
We can expand Social Security, even in the face of distortions, misunderstanding, and outright lies promoted by moneyed interests. But we must all educate ourselves and those we know, we must get involved, and we must work together.
Expanding Social Security Is About Values – We must understand that today’s debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about confidence, security, and values. In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, it’s not about “the creation of new and strange values,” but, as he explained more than eighty years ago: “It is rather the finding of the way once more to known, but to some degree forgotten, ideals and values. If the means and details are in some instances new, the objectives are as permanent as human nature. Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first.”
All the talk about Social Security going broke has robbed us of that security. As its name suggests, Social Security is intended to provide not only tangible cash benefits, but also the intangible benefit of peace of mind. For Social Security to accomplish its goal of providing peace of mind and security, people must feel confident that it will be there for them. Otherwise, the program ceases to function as intended; it provides income replacement only, not true security. Many no longer have that sense of security and peace of mind that they and their families are assured financial security in the event of disability, death, or old age. That sense of security has been lost as the result of the extremely effective thirty-year campaign against Social Security. It is now time to restore that intangible benefit of peace of mind. That is one value we all should be fighting for.
Americans approximately have a sense of contributing toward their own retirement and feel good about receiving Social Security benefits. They understand the importance of providing disability protections for themselves and their families; the importance of protecting children and other family members if they die. The benefits are not based on need, but rather have been earned through labor and contributions from salaries and wages.
Yet some have lost the sense that Social Security benefits are earned compensation, thanks to the use of words and phrases like “entitlement,” “makers versus takers,” and “safety net.” The language subtly implies that Social Security is a government handout, not an insurance that we have earned and paid for. A safety net, after all, is something you fall into if you make a mistake on the high wire or trapeze. One is glad the safety net is there, but falling into it is to be avoided, if possible. Insurance, on the other hand, is what prudent people buy because they are aware of life’s risks and are planning ahead. People who are prudent do not need or want safety nets. It is why they purchase insurance (and accumulate savings.).
The phrase “social safety net” in connection with Social Security was introduced into the political lexicon and popularized by President Reagan. Revealingly, Reagan rejected the idea that Social Security is insurance. He asserted, for example, in a stump speech he gave in 1964 in support of the election of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, that supporters of Social Security “only use the term ‘insurance’ to sell it to the people.
The phrase “safety net” has become embedded in the language in the same way that the word “entitlement” has in relation to Social Security. The next step seems to be to redefine the image of a “safety net” into a ‘hammock’ lulling able-bodied people to sleep.
The false claim that Social Security is a government giveaway has become a standard talking point of those who would dismantle the program. On May 20, 2011, for example, Fox Business launched a weeklong series, called Entitlement Nation: Makers vs. Takers, in which it pushed the idea that “the great divide in this country [is] between the folks who actually make things, and those who actually take what others make.” Not surprisingly, those benefiting from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were labeled as takers.
The recognition that Social Security is part of our compensation for our hard work and contributions is another value this fight over Social Security is about. People who receive the Social Security benefits they have earned are not takers. They are not feckless souls who have fallen into a safety net. They are not spoiled, over-entitled adults taking advantage of working Americans. They are not dependent on government any more than are Representative Paul Ryan, who routinely uses the “takers” language, and other politicians, whose salaries are paid by the federal government. Social Security beneficiaries are our parents, our grandparents, our children, our friends, and our neighbors who have earned these benefits. They are all of us, who see mandatory contributions to Social Security deducted from every paycheck. None of us deserves to be assaulted by language that diminishes our accomplishments and risks undermining our dignity. We have earned our benefits and we should claim our benefits with pride.
Yet another value that underlies the fight over Social Security is compassion for our neighbors. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, millions of Americans reached into their pockets to contribute to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations assisting the families of the 9/11 victims. What most Americans, to this day, do not know is that the most immediate, sustained, and generous support came from Social Security. Today, virtually all working Americans continue to contribute to those families every payday. The money withheld from every worker’s paycheck for Social Security goes into the program’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds, out of which those victims’ families receive benefits. Virtually every child who lost a parent or whose parent was severely disabled as a result of the terrorist attack will receive a Social Security check every month until his or her late teens.
Still another value the fight is about is recognition of Social Security’s conservative, prudent management of our money. Of all federal programs, Social Security and Medicare are the most closely monitored. As discussed in chapter 2, Social Security is extremely conservatively financed and must balance its budget without any borrowing whatsoever. Yet this important value is disregarded by our politicians, who tend to lump it together with all other federal spending.
This is not a time for compromising the economic well-being of the middle class and poor, not when two-thirds of the income growth over the past twenty years has gone to the top 1 percent. This is not a time to accept further cuts to our Social Security as “reasonable compromise,” as little “tweaks” that will do no lasting harm. Rather, this is the time for reasonable people to talk about expanding Social Security, just as the majority of Americans want. This is the time to seriously discuss real increases in benefits, protections for young families, and protections for working people who must leave work due to illness.
At base, this is about what kind of nation we want to live in and leave for those who follow. Although couched largely in terms of economics, the debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about the role of government, about all of us working together, and about the societal values the nation seeks to achieve through Social Security.
Expanding Social Security Requires your Involvement – But facts and values alone are not enough. Those of us who want to expand Social Security must work for it.
We know we can expand Social Security, because by working together and bringing the voices of the American people into the policy debate, we have already done much. Together, the American people defeated President George W. Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security. Together, the American people defeated President Barack Obama’s effort to strike a “Grand Bargain” that would have traded cuts to our earned Social Security benefits in exchange for increased taxes.
These victories didn’t happen by themselves. Working together, hundreds of national and state organizations and many millions of Americans won the day. (For a discussion of who those organizations are, please see appendix D.) These champions of Social Security were able to communicate the threats to Social Security to the American people, who in turn communicated to their elected officials in Washington and the media through petitions, phone calls, letters, blog posts, and opinion pieces. All of these efforts brought the voices of the American people to their representatives, in Washington and in their district offices, alerting those representatives that they were considering actions that violated the will of the American people.
In the last few years, our elected officials came closer than most people realize to cutting and, worse, beginning the dismantling of our Social Security system, as chapter 11 describes. When the president of the United States and the leadership of the opposition party all supported cutting Social Security, when hundreds of millions of dollars were directed at making the case for cutting Social Security, when so many in the mainstream media seemed so supportive of such cuts, it is truly inspiring that they were stymied by the coordinated efforts of public interest organizations and the American people.
But now is not the time to let up. The fight continues. Now is the time to redouble our efforts and fight harder. If you are not yet involved, we urge you to do so, in ways we explain below. The goal is clear: block destructive cuts and enact wise, responsible Social Security expansions.
Expanding Social Security Requires An American Strategy – In chapter 1, we spoke of an article titled “Achieving Social Security Reform: A ‘Leninist’ Strategy,” published in 1983. Calling for “guerrilla warfare against the current social security system and the coalition that supports it,” the authors explained: “We must be prepared for a long campaign. . . . [I]t could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible. But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must . . . be patient.”
We who want to protect and expand Social Security must develop our own strategy, an American strategy, and must be patient and be prepared for a long campaign. We must be prepared in the short term to lay the groundwork for ultimate success. Unlike the anti-Social Security ideologues, our strategy won’t require deception or division. Quite the opposite. The American strategy involves truth-telling and joining forces, all of us together—young, old, and those in between: rich, poor, and those in the middle, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike.
Combating the Leninist strategy, which is with us still, and achieving greater economic security for all of America’s working families will require all of us to become actively involved. A crucial first step in the American strategy is reversing the lack of confidence in the future of Social Security, believed most widely by young Americans, but infecting even those who are old. Because the misinformation is so deeply imbedded in the minds of the general public, but especially the elites, a multipronged approach is necessary.
This book is but one source of information. Other sources of accurate information are discussed in appendix D. Indeed, the Social Security Administration itself has an excellent website with much useful information, available at http://www.ssa.gov.
Social Security experts who are supportive of the program must educate students, teachers, professors, media, and elected officials alike. In addition to appearing on panels and at symposia, these experts should be increasingly drawn upon to hold Washington briefings for policymakers and influencers. All of their work should be backed by solid information.
But that is not enough. Citizen organizations, religious communities, and everyone whose lives are touched by Social Security (that’s all of us) should get involved in the effort to restore confidence in this sound institution. Everyone should become informed and work to dispel the myths highlighted in chapter 10. But that is only a first step.
We know that Social Security works. Now we need to show how it can work even better—how expanding this institution is part of the solution to the economic insecurities facing many of today’s old; to the retirement income crisis confronting today’s workers; to the pressures—financial, time, and stress related—experienced by those caring for children or disabled and ill family members; to unacceptable inequality threatening the American Dream, ours, our children’s, and grandchildren’s.
If the American strategy to expand Social Security is to succeed, all of us together must convince those seeking election that championing the expansion of Social Security is the key to victory—and then demand that they carry through on their promise, in the sunshine, so that they can be held to account.
The American people are sometimes called a sleeping giant. The “Leninist” strategy is designed to lull that giant, to keep it asleep, by offering seniors comforting words that their benefits won’t be cut, while convincing their grandchildren that they have nothing to lose, or worse, that Grandma is stealing from them.
But that is not how America’s families think. Grandparents care about their grandchildren. They fight for Social Security because they love those grandchildren and want them to have the same economic security seniors know is so important in this insecure world. And grandchildren are too smart to buy the lie that they will be better off if their grandparents are worse off.
It is time for the sleeping giant to awaken. Poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans supports Social Security, opposes benefit cuts, and wants responsible benefit improvements. And we are, after all, a democracy, where the majority is supposed to rule. But we must make sure our voices are heard. We must get involved.
We have noted that Social Security is often called the third rail of American politics. There’s a reason for this. The American people may at times be slow to respond to threats to our Social Security, but when they do, their representatives take note. Senators and representatives know they ignore their constituents on this issue at the peril of their political careers. That’s why, with rare exception, we never hear a politician speak directly about cutting benefits.
Rarely do those who support cutting our Social Security talk directly to the American people about cutting cost-of-living adjustments, reducing benefits for today’s middle-aged and younger workers, or turning Social Security into what would virtually be, in time, a flat and much smaller benefit for most of the young. They talk instead in generalities, about “saving” or “fixing” Social Security,. Don’t be fooled. We must all demand straight talk from those who have been elected to serve us.
It is time for those of us who have a stake in the fight—and that is everyone—to take action. Educate your friends, co-workers, children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. Go to town hall meetings when your representatives hold them. And ask hard questions. Don’t let them off the hook with platitudes. And make clear that you and your allies will hold them accountable. Seek pledges, circulate petitions, write and call elected officials. Write letters to the editor and make calls to radio shows, especially when they spout the tired charges found in chapter 10. Support candidates not just with contributions, but with time. If you want to be involved with others, we have listed our organization and its website, together with the names of our coalition partners and other allies who would love to have your energy and talent. The bottom line: get involved however you can.
Social Security has transformed the United States. It has reshaped America, providing wage insurance for virtually all of today’s working families. These benefits matter greatly to workers and families who are protected against the economic devastation that death, disability, and retirement might otherwise pose. But Social Security is more than dollars and cents. It is a cherished institution, embodying the noblest of American values and ideals.
As we have emphasized throughout this book, Social Security builds on, reinforces, and reflects what is best about our nation—working hard; taking responsibility to care for our parents, children, other family, neighbors, and selves; promoting the dignity of all persons throughout their lives; and sharing the burdens and bounty of our great nation.
Prior generations have created and improved our Social Security system, as a legacy for us. Now it is our turn to build on it and pass forward an even stronger, more robust institution for those who follow in our footsteps.”
(I AGREE WITH THE AUTHORS OF THIS WELL-WRITTEN BOOK, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY JOIN SOME ORGANIZATION AND ALONG WITH THEM AND YOURSELF, CONTACT THEM THROUGH TELEPHONE, EMAIL OR WRITTEN LETTER, TELLING YOUR ELECTED LEGISLATORS THAT YOU MUST PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY. THIS IS A PROGRAM THAT WE, AS WORKERS, FUNDED THROUGH A PAYROLL DEDUCTION AS WE WERE WORKING. NOW, AS SENIORS, WE ARE COLLECTING THE MONEY WE PUT ASIDE FOR RETIREMENT. MY ONLY COMPLAINT, I’M NOT SURE, WHO IS BORROWING FROM SOCIAL SECURITY AND IF WE’RE EVER GOING TO GET IT BACK BECAUSE IT SEEMS AS THOUGH IT’S A FORM OF TAXATION ON THE MIDDLE CLASS, WHICH HAS TO BE TALKED ABOUT NOW AND NOT DOWN THE ROAD. BECAUSE, ONCE BEFORE, THEY SAID THEY HAD THE PROBLEM SOLVED AND THEN THE GOVERNMENT USED THE SOCIAL SECURITY MONEY TO BALANCE THE BUDGET. YOU CAN LOOK UP IN APPENDIX D, WHERE YOU WILL FIND A NUMBER OF ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE ALSO TRYING TO PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY. SINCE I’M A MEMBER OF AARP AND PUBLIC CITIZEN AND I’M FRIENDS ON THE COMPUTER WITH CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE, I URGE ALL ELDERLY PEOPLE TO JOIN AT LEAST ONE GROUP AND PARTICIPATE IN INSURING YOUR GROUP DOESN’T GET IGNORED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THESE RICH BILLIONAIRES ,WHO PROBABLY DON’T NEED SOCIAL SECURITY BECAUSE OF THEIR HUGE WEALTH WHICH IS STILL GROWING..
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Independent, Overtaxed Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members