The Corner

Bachmann & Bernie



I’m disappointed to read the comments of Michele Bachmann’s adviser, which Katrina posted on yesterday and Mike mentioned earlier today. I don’t mind a good debate over Social Security. As Mark suggests, we need it, and the GOP should be making such a debate easier to have, not demagoguing anyone who tries to address Social Security and other entitlements. What bothers me is vapid commentary. I like Rep. Bachmann a lot, and I hate seeing an adviser make incoherent arguments on her behalf. After all, not having something thoughtful to say implies an intention to do nothing more than pander to senior citizens in Florida and South Carolina (the states the adviser took pains to mention … and that just happen to be crucial primary states). 

In trying to differentiate Rep. Bachmann from Gov. Perry, the adviser makes the following absurd comparison: “Bernie Madoff deals with Ponzi schemes, not the grandparents of America.” But in a correct analogy, Bernie Madoff would be in the role of the government, not the beneficiaries. Does the adviser seriously believe that “the grandparents of America” were not among those who depended on returns from Madoff’s fraud scheme? Does the adviser think that “the grandparents of America” are not among those who were swindled in Madoff’s fraud? Madoff’s victims, many of whom were ruined, are no less sympathetic because they were defrauded by a convicted fraudster instead of by elected officials who hold themselves above the fraud laws they apply to everybody else.

Perry’s point was that, much like Madoff’s scheme, Social Security was designed in such a way, and has been managed in such a way, as to defraud those currently paying in, and to imperil the payment streams current and future senior citizens have been promised. I’d be interested to know with what part of that Bachmann disagrees.

There is another problem for us Bachmann admirers. A big part of her appeal involves her commitment to being, as she puts it, a “constitutional conservative” — with great respect for states’ rights and for the Framers’ conception of a limited federal government. Given her emphatic support for Social Security, I’d certainly be interested in her views on its constitutionality. In fact, I’d be interested in hearing all the candidates on that point. I don’t see, for example, how you could say that Social Security is a proper exercise of Congress’s tax-and-spend power under the General Welfare Clause and not concede that Obamacare would also be constitutional if its individual mandate were pitched as a tax instead of a compulsory insurance contribution (a la Social Security). (As I’ll try to flesh out soon, I’m a Madisonian on the General Welfare Clause — and, up until now, I’d have bet that a Tea Partier like Michele Bachmann was one, too.)

If, in the alternative, Rep. Bachmann believes Social Security is constitutional simply because the Supreme Court has so ruled, as opposed to because the original meaning of the General Welfare Clause supports that interpretation, then there is rather less appeal to constitutional conservatism, isn’t there? 


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