Q. I’ve read thousands of self-serving words on Social Security and the alleged “crisis,” but I’ve yet to learn how you feel about this partisan public debate. What gives?
A. In the interest of doing my homework, I drove to nearby Warm Springs, Ga., to spend time around the Little White House, where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of Social Security, lived and worked for a time.
Here, wife Jan and I immersed ourselves in the history and lore of our only four-term president, a man of wealth and education who came to understand the simple life, and hard times, of the working poor among his Georgia neighbors.
When this man with iron braces on his legs first arrived, few of these mountain people had electricity or running water and the nation was failing, held down by the Great Depression. Roosevelt, a patrician from New York, was crippled by incurable polio, yet gave little quarter to his handicap.
Out of this unlikely confluence between the striving, complex and innovative Roosevelt, rubbing up against hard-scrabble rural families, the future president learned to be empathetic, even as Georgians came to know a politician whom they might believe, and trust.
I suggest this history is relevant to the understanding of the Social Security program: its intent, its purpose and what it has accomplished since 1935. Many current recipients express similar sentiments:
“I am a widow, 75 years old, and well educated,” begins Barbara A. Hail, of Rhode Island. “If the Social Security trust funds were respected as a ‘trust’ by the government, there would be no (alleged) crisis.
“One has to surmise that President Bush’s desire is to dismantle the system because he does not believe in its underlying principle, that government is obligated to supply a safety net for its people - for sickness, disability, and old age. ...”
This woman alone continues, saying she was widowed with three small children, not yet 35 years old, when her first check arrived. “Had it not been for Social Security, I would not have been able to send all three to college; I would have had to leave them to go to work much earlier than I did. It is for these unexpected life events the safety net has been created, and it needs to stay in place.”
Barbara Hail suggests George W. Bush “believes in upwardly mobile achievers, not in those who cannot help themselves.” Of course, the president is not alone with his convictions, and this is part of what troubles me about our current administration.
I am reminded of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, sometimes called the greatest preacher of our time, who writes: “We don’t have to be ‘successful,’ only valuable. We don’t have to make money, only a difference, and particularly in the lives society counts least, and puts last.”
Now, it profits us to look at the record: The federal deficit for 2004 was a record-setting, and dismaying, $412 billion. Moreover, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that, following Mr. Bush’s 2005 budget, our deficit will stay at $200 billion for the next 10 years! Is this then the man to lead us into some untested, poorly explained economic experiment, all cloaked in the neat language of “a reform?”
Sorry, Mister President, but I stand with AARP on Social Security. I rise to the message of Executive Director William Novelli, who states: “Transforming the health care system may well be the most important thing we can do to improve the quality of life for everyone, deliver care more rationally and cost-effectively and make Medicare and Medicaid sustainable for the long run.”
This is what Franklin Roosevelt might say, too: First things first.
- A quote for the week: “It has been estimated that you lose 500 brain cells every hour, so if you have any serious thinking to do there really isn’t a moment to waste.” This is clever Bill Bryson entertaining us in “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
- Here’s a Web site you need to visit: www.nihseniorhealth.gov. Good information, clearly presented, on taking medicines.
- If you know someone who’s having trouble paying heating bills, suggest they call the Eldercare Locator, (800) 677-1116, or Home Energy Assistance Program, (866) 674-6327.
- Call me a spoil-sport, but I doubt Viagra, or one of its highly-advertised imitators, needs to be a Medicare benefit. Medically necessary? I doubt it.
- With Osama Bin Laden still at large, and tax cheats numbering in the thousands, why is our Justice Department busying itself trying to overturn Oregon’s aid-in-dying law? Voters twice endorsed the law.
- Author Ring Lardner, 1885-1933, asked, “How can you write if you can’t cry?”
- “The question is whether we can support the elderly with a decent standard of living without imposing a crushing burden on the young.” Richard Jackson, of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said it to the Washington Post. Note: Spending on the elderly will total $1.8 trillion in 2015, almost half the federal budget.