I was thrilled to learn some years ago that my trusted financial planner had not put any of my precious savings into a Bernie Madoff-managed fund. As a retiree without a pension, I live largely on my personal savings plus what I earn as a writer and my part-time work in the ski industry. But, I also depend on my monthly social security check. If I had lost my savings to the Madoff Ponzi scheme, it would have changed my life.
So you can imagine my shock and dismay listening to one of the nation’s top governors at the Republican Presidential Debate on September 6 call social security a Ponzi scheme and a fraud. Who can you turn to when you are told that one of your sources of income is a Ponzi scheme, and that the money is invested in your nation?
Of course I’m being sarcastic because I knew from the moment Rick Perry made his inaccurate comment (which was a repetition of the equally indefensible statement written in his book, “Fed Up”), that he was simply politicking, but I wondered why a mature and competent politician would say anything that outrageous. It would be completely different if Perry had written and said that Social Security is in trouble and needs reforming. Most people agree with that position. On an actuarial basis, we are stressing the Social Security system. But, it is by no means on the ropes. And it is beloved by the American people.
Even the idea of privatizing social security or making it into a 401K type of savings plan is unpopular with the public, and has not been able to generate a mandate in any Congress thus far. But making adjustments around the edges of the program – changing such elements as age that the entitlement begins, level of taxation of social security income and raising the FICA requirements for higher income earners, for example – seem logical and acceptable.
Taking broad and unprincipled swipes at Social Security is a sure loser. And while Governor Perry may have won some applause from the extremes of his party, he almost certainly disqualified himself with the center of the nation as a result of his condemnation of Social Security at the debates, which is too bad. Because in most areas, Perry acquitted himself quite well as a candidate. Well, there was that moment when he condemned Republican stalwarts such as Karl Rove who had criticized him. One life lesson Perry should have learned by now is graciousness. When an opponent strikes out at you, never lash back. It lets others see that you have been hurt. Always be gracious to those who have gone before you, because you end up standing on their shoulders.
As the debates go forward, Governor Perry may well learn these lessons, and find ways around his Social Security indiscretions. He needs to do so if he wants to become a viable candidate for the presidency, and not just a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.