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« Reform Thursday: Social Security, Chart Two. | WILLisms.com | National Review Notes AARP's Agenda. »

Social Security Reform Opponents Beating Up Straw Men.

Timothy J. Penny, a Democrat from Minnesota who spent 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, warns members of his party about setting up straw men in the Social Security debate.

First, an explanation of what a "straw man" is:

"A common tactic in political debate is to set up "straw men" and then knock them down. It is easy to win a debate this way — assuming people believe your assertions.
'Straw men' are phony assertions about what your opponent stands for or about the policies he/she advocates. In other words — falsely assert your opponent proposes something awful — and then remind folks you stand for motherhood and apple pie."

Now to the meat of the argument:

"Interestingly, many who today criticize Mr. Bush for using the word 'crisis' today were among a chorus of supporters when President Clinton warned us about Social Security's impending crisis seven years ago.
Frankly, I do not know how these Bush opponents define a crisis. They don't dispute that the current system will experience a cash flow crunch by 2018 (caused by the retirement of the huge Baby Boom generation). It is also universally acknowledged that within a few short decades the system will collect enough payroll taxes to pay only 75 percent of benefits. If these statistics don't describe a crisis in the making, I don't know what would constitute a crisis. Obviously, acting sooner than later is the wiser course of action. That is all the president and reform advocates are trying to say."

Straw man, example one:

"First, opponents insist reformers are out to 'privatize' Social Security. They know 'privatize' is a scary word, so they use it a lot. The 'privatization' allegation is designed to conjure images of a program in which the federal government backs out of its role in providing a safety net for retirees. But no such thing is proposed by reformers."

Straw man, example two:

"Second, opponents claim reformers want to place workers at risk of the stock market. Again that is not borne out by the facts. Because most reform plans are fashioned after the Federal Thrift Savings Plan, it should be clear that reformers are aware of the need to manage the risk associated with personal accounts. Under the TSP, there are a limited number of investment options (currently only five). The TSP offers mutual fund investments — broad based investment funds, either all bonds, all stocks or a little of each. None of these funds is heavily invested in any one company or any industry sector."

Straw man, example three:

"Third, opponents argue that reform is a Wall Street driven idea. Not so. Having worked on this issue for nearly a decade, I can report most Wall Street firms have been reluctant to engage in the debate."

Straw man, example four:

"Finally, opponents assert reformers want to 'destroy' Social Security. Again, not true. Reform advocates simply do not want to wait until the crisis is upon us to fix Social Security.

Because we waited until the crisis hit before we took action, higher taxes and benefit cuts were all that could be done in 1983 (the last time we bailed out the system). "

Posted by Will Franklin · 10 February 2005 02:54 PM


What I don’t read about is the real reason why they oppose President Bush’s reforms.
With politicians their interest is always power, getting elected or staying elected never the interest of the people they serve, unless it satisfies one of the three principles listed.

Social Security is a good example of their interests over the people’s interest. What is not being told is that the social Security Trust Fund is a big “Three Card Monty” con game.

Bait and Switch,

Real money (defined as money that can be spent) is taken from the worker each week and placed in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is promptly replaced by Treasury obligations, (defined as IOUs). The real money then goes into the general fund, (defined as the congressional “Pork Barrel”) which the congress uses to run the government and fund pet projects and programs.

Smoke and Mirrors,

Under the guise of good government our representatives have been spending the Social Security money from the “Pork Barrel” on programs and individuals that support them. (Defined as “Special Interests”) The Special Interest in turn donate large amounts of money to keep their favorite politician in office, (defined as “Bribery”) these donations are legal since they write the laws that make it legal. (Defined as doing something that appears to be in “The Peoples” interest but is not.)

The Fly in the ointment,

President Bush uttered a phrase that would be disastrous to their con game. (Defined as “Individual Private Accounts”) What happens if individuals were allowed to open up individual Social Security accounts? It was estimated that it would cause a shortfall in the Social Security Trust Fund in the trillion’s of dollars.

The Double Whammy,

Two things happen that is disastrous to the opponents of privatization, the first is that the money that is diverted from the Trust Fund will have to be replaced to keep the current retirees checks coming, or cut the benefits to the retirees and increase the retirement age. The second is that this is the money they were using to fund their special interest and to keep their political supporters happy if it no longer available other programs will have to be cut or taxes raised.

The Straw Man,

Devise a fictitious bad guy and develop a scenario that will turn the public against the Straw Man (defined as President Bush) that want to destroy the pork barrel money, hence label the privatization program as a program that will cut the benefits and increase the retirement age for the elderly. Then get the special interest people (defined as the AARP) spread the lies that this is disastrous program to the elderly.

Posted by: Robert E. McFeeley at July 10, 2005 02:17 PM