Politics & Policy

Make Every Retirement Count

Americans can vote and manage their Social Security personal accounts.

At Monday’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Boston, Sen. John Kerry alleged voter suppression this past November. He went on to say that “we cannot tolerate that here in America too many people were denied democracy.” Kerry’s comments followed numerous statements by Democratic luminaries last fall about making sure “every vote counts,” and a September letter in which Sen. Ted Kennedy expressed “deep concern” to Attorney General John Ashcroft about the Justice Department using its power to “harass those whose voting rights it has the responsibility to protect.”

Given the close nature of the 2000 election, it was to some degree understandable that Democrats would stress voter mobilization in 2004. What perhaps remained unknowable was whether the Democrats were simply desperate for votes or if they actually believed their own rhetoric about every vote being counted. Their actions in regard to personal accounts for Social Security strongly suggest what many have long believed: Democratic politicians see voters as incompetent pawns that are only useful insofar as they can help the party win elections.

How could anyone conclude anything else? With the exception of ex-Rep. Charlie Stenholm, Democratic politicians have either kept quiet about their views on Social Security, or — as in the cases of Kennedy and Kerry — have loudly stated that an option giving Americans control over their FICA withholdings is not an option.

There is hypocrisy here. Do Democratic politicians only see voters as possessors of wisdom to the extent that they have the brains to put Democratic politicians in power? To Democrats, the wisdom of voters apparently does not extend beyond that act of voting.

The Democrats can’t have it both ways. Either U.S. citizens are enlightened enough to vote for their legislators and handle their retirements, or they are not. Indeed, all Senate and House members avail themselves of the federal pension program, and none (as far as anyone knows) has gone bankrupt in the various conservative investment options offered. If legislators respect the wisdom of voters who put them in power, then they must also respect the ability of those voters to do like them and handle their own retirements.

Voters must also remind members of both political parties of the basic truth that nothing can enter the U.S. Social Security fund that hasn’t been taken from taxpayers. Demographics aside, the question of personal accounts asks whether or not those who fund Social Security should have a role in directing how a portion of their money is invested. For a politician in either party to deny this right is the same as denying another basic truism that has seemingly been forgotten in the Social Security debate: The federal government has no resources of its own; the money it spends results solely from the work efforts of the electorate.

The U.S. political class has campaigned on creating prosperity since the country started out. But as we all know those in power have failed us at times. This was evident in the 1930s and the 1970s. It is evident today in the demographic failure that defines our Social Security system.

Voters must demand the right to have more say over their retirements. To not do so may insure the eventual failure of the existing Social Security system.

John Tamny is a writer in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at jtamny@yahoo.com.

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