Questioning Motives

I don’t know about you but I am not one to fathom human motives. I’m not sure what my own are much of the time! But a recent article in Yahoo Finance News ventures into this dark realm when the author professes to know why Barack Obama failed to defend Social Security against the assaults from the Republicans who want to cripple the program — despite the fact that it is one of the most beneficial, cost-effective, and successful programs this nation has ever known.

The author, Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, tells us why he thinks Obama backed Mitt Romney in the first debate when the latter said the program must be reduced to save money.

There is a simple explanation for Obama’s refusal to defend Social Security. In elite Washington circles the willingness to cut Social Security is taken as evidence of courage. These people do not depend on Social Security. In fact, as Governor Romney demonstrated at his famous fundraiser speech, they actually have contempt for the people who do depend on programs like Social Security.

If Obama were to take a strong stand defending Social Security he could expect to be attacked harshly by these elites. In news stories and editorial columns, outlets like the Washington Post and National Public Radio would denounce President Obama in harsh terms. Needless to say, his wealthy funders might also have second thoughts.

If it is the case that our President is in awe of the Washington “elites” and motivated by the wish to be accepted by that type of person this is rather disturbing. If this really is the simplest explanation then Baker’s surmise increases in plausibility. But Baker’s guess cannot be said to be an assured thing; it is pure speculation. At the same time, I must confess that despite the fact that I am an Obama supporter and was delighted when he won the last election and plan to vote for him again — given the realities of the situation — I have always thought (and said in print) that he is far too conciliatory, too eager to please.

In any event, Romney is proposing cutting Social Security for retirees — who would be at least five years older under his plan — on the supposition that they have other retirement plans and don’t need the help. Baker contends that even if they had other retirement plans such plans are of questionable reliability and Obama could score big political points by recommending that Social Security benefits be increased, especially for lower-income persons who need help when they retire. But he has apparently been reluctant to do this. As Baker goes on to say in his article:

Given this reality, it would be sound policy for President Obama to insist, in contrast to Governor Romney, that Social Security cuts are off the table until we have fixed the larger retirement savings system. If anything, it would be reasonable to suggest increasing Social Security benefits, especially for low and moderate income workers.

Baker suspects Obama’s motives, and perhaps worries that Obama lacks the courage of his convictions.  Obama has made tough decisions, however — for example when he determined that the Navy SEALs should take Osama bin Laden out in spite of advisers who (we read) urged a different course of action that they thought would be less likely to fail. I dare say it was also his decision, and a good one, not to bring Pakistan into the loop and let them know what was about to happen. I suppose Baker would surmise that the Washington “elites” approved of those decisions. But the Social Security program is one that has benefited millions of people for many years and one which most of us consider a right that we have earned by dint of hard work and long hours on the job. It is not something that anyone, Democrat or Republican, should be tinkering with, much less threatening to take away from our children and their children — regardless of what the “elites” might or might not think.

Let’s hope that Dean Baker read the tea leaves incorrectly and that his venture into the realm of human motivations took a wrong turn. But we are left with the question why this President has not come out in support of Social Security? That in itself is bothersome.

5 thoughts on “Questioning Motives

  1. Good post. One of the interesting data points I saw last year came from a Global Retirement Study conducted by Mercer. It showed the US was down in the global ranks on retirement planning and funding. With the freezing of pensions, cut backs on retiree medical and poor savings, we rank below many other countries. Social Security has some financing issues (I do not use the words funding as the money does not go into a trust). Yet, the question is what do we want it do? It may need to do more, which means we should increase the employee and employer rates. We also may want to recalibrate how the benefits are delivered – right now it is defined benefit; maybe we could balance between a DB and DC approach. These are the bigger questions in my mind. Thanks, BTG

  2. Medicare takes a percentage of pay for every dollar earned, yet SS stops at a certain level. Make the SS charge the same as medicare. Allow voluntary removal from SS. Everyone HAS to take SS today.

    But what really gets to me is calling it an entitlement, as though somehow the govt is giving us money. We’ve all paid into it, similar to an insurance policy, for example. We’ve paid for it, it is not an entitlement.

    Just imagine what a disaster SS would be if Bush had been allowed to put it into private investments!

    Good post

  3. Ugh….the older I get the more panicked I get about this being a political football. instead of fixing something that is working, why not just try to find ways to strengthen it?

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