By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
It was the early 1990s, and I was in my late 20s, working at the White House writing speeches. One of the ideas in the speech was that Social Security was going to run out of money by 2030. Wait a minute, I thought, how old will I be in 2030? A quick subtraction on the back of an envelope told me I’d be 67. It was an epiphany: no Social Security for me.
I went through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial (do the math again, that can’t be right); anger (what the hell?); bargaining (maybe if I live a frugal life I won’t need any money, I’ll just eat saltines from now on); depression (so this means I’ll pay in my whole life, and then get stiffed by the government and die broke); and finally, acceptance (I started my own 401K(k) that week and have been arguing for the privatization of Social Security ever since).
There are a lot of us, now in our mid-40s, who realized a long time ago that the chances of any of us seeing a dime of Social Security--or Medicare, for that matter--after a lifetime of paying in is simply unrealistic. I really don’t know anyone my age or younger who is counting on getting any benefits. Ever. And while it was “all about me” when I was younger, now I’m much more concerned with what this crisis means to our society, to families, and to our economy.
That’s why it caught my eye this morning on Morning Joe when Marco Rubio, the conservative challenger to Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, said in response to a question about the future of Social Security, “There is a stick of dynamite in the room, and the wick has been lit.” (The meat of the interview starts at the 3:30 mark.) He says that the system will look very different 20, 30, and 40 years from now, and he’s right that it’s not fair to our children to bankrupt the country. We need to reform the system now. The whole interview was very good; Rubio goes on to disavow Glenn Beck’s extremism and other inflammatory rhetoric on the right.
It’s one of the few times I’ve heard any politician acknowledge that there is a huge problem--and that he’s willing to do something about it. Many politicians try to minimize it: They choose their words carefully so they’re not accused of “scaring old people,” and they tapdance around it. I think that’s probably what some pols have to do in front of some audiences. But for middle-aged voters like me (I know, “40 is the new 30,” but still), to keep making entitlements like Social Security and Medicare “untouchable” in the budget is simply delusional.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the idea of cutting benefits doesn’t scare me, because I don’t think I’m going to get any in the first place. Half a loaf is better than no loaf.
This president won’t say what needs to be said, but at least he had the wisdom to bring Alan Simpson in as co-chair of the new bipartisan Debt Commission. If anybody’s going to say what we need to hear, it’s Alan Simpson. He understands that the wick has been lit.