Is President Bush seeking social insecurity?
Americans like it when former presidents no longer fight with each other but fall into each other’s arms. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton are globetrotting, doing a world of good as they rally support for tsunami victims. During interviews on camera they exude affection for each other. Reporters sense empathy between these former adversaries. They swap jokes and support each other.In a similar way, President George Bush wants to co-op support from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the founding father of social security. Few disagree that Social Security, as it now functions, will run out of money down the stretch because the pool of workers is shrinking as great waves of retirees swell. President Bush tells us that we can sing Happy Days Are Here Again, along with FDR and his New Dealers, if Americans are allowed to fix the bankrupt-headed system by investing some of their money in personal retirement accounts. Bush offers only nice comments about Roosevelt, the greatest enemy the Republican Party ever faced. Stalwarts supporting President Bush who are in the Progress for America conservative bloc ran a pro private investment advertisement. They wove footage of FDR into it, pretending that he hails Bush JR’s fix-it plan with the same fervency Bush Sr. and Clinton build their love-fest. Grandson James Roosevelt denied this ridiculous inference that FDR would endorse Bush’s plan.1935, when Social Security received congressional approval, is long ago. Memories become foggy when it comes to how people debated the merits of this new plan then. Let’s turn back the clock and discover Roosevelt’s profound fear.Staffers around Roosevelt write in their memoirs that he had ice water running in his veins. He showed no fear. In crisis he rarely got riled because resolve took hold. Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s trusted Secretary of Labor, remembered that of all the New Deal achievements, one stood out for FDR. He believed that the Social Security Act functioned as the keystone in the arch of his presidency. Social Security he regarded as the “cornerstone of his administration.”Roosevelt feared social insecurity. Already as New York State’s governor, Roosevelt saw that an agrarian social web had been broken. For decades on farms, families took care of their own. They cared for widows and grandparents. Few orphans felt forsaken in these close-knit communities. FDR saw when the stock market went bust in 1929 that citizens on their own initiative could not care for all the dispossessed. He took seriously the Good Book’s teaching that true religion did not consist of only right belief. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27).The needs of the neediest were too serious for private good will to adequately handle, maintained Roosevelt. Such a system depending on individual benevolence would crush American society. Poverty breeds hopelessness. People who lack hope become chaotic. And those churning with chaos inside become revolutionaries who kill, rob and destroy. Without the Federal Government intervening with a permanent, pervasive program helping the widow and orphan, society would careen towards social instability.Prior to 1935 critics of FDR’s plans to help the helpless, fortified with right wing ideology from prominent business leaders, wanted to destroy a social security system. They believed private investment and public good will would take care of the needy. They argued that a huge government handout like Social Security undercuts thrift, encourages shiftlessness, destroys individual gumption to succeed, and would be a stab in the heart to both moral character and capitalism. Social Security, FDR’s detractors argued, would destroy cardinal American virtues that have made our nation great. These virtues were self-help, self-denial and taking personal responsibility for one’s financial situation.All the economic data swirling about to fix social security leaves many baffled. What I do know for sure is that the widow and orphan, because they are widowed and orphaned, do not possess much money. What happens if some of their meager worth is siphoned from Social Security into private investments and then Wall Street enters a Bear market? Roosevelt realized that Social Security is an insurance policy, especially for the elderly, poor, sharecroppers, immigrant blue-collar families, single parent families and others who are not privileged. These citizens can not afford to gamble on Wall Street. Roosevelt and Big Business battled head-to-head. He never backed down, contending that no part of Social Security should be turned into a private investment program. It is insurance for good people who need assistance from Uncle Sam. FDR sounds unlike President George W. Bush who supports economic strategies that bless the rich so that they can rev up our national economy to rescue the poor. FDR rebutted this conviction. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”In Christian Century Magazine’s lead editorial, “What Crisis?” (February 8, 2005), editors succinctly give a Christian critique of Bush’s aim. “The drive to privatize Social Security is not about saving Social Security; it’s about changing it, if not eliminating it. It is not about making an actuarial adjustment to ensure the program’s survival; it’s about pursuing an ideological opposition to government, and about undermining the idea that government can be the means by which citizens provide for the common good.”How our nation treats the poor provides social security or insecurity. The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’s book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado
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