Do you remember when you were a kid and you’d find something you desperately wanted in a toy store? You’d tug at your parent’s pant leg and plead with them to let you have it. In fact, you’d put on quite a performance—puppy dog eyes, fake tears, whatever it took. Nevertheless, as soon as your act was over, your parents would respond “maybe” and deflate your dreams. You knew that when they said “maybe,” they meant no and they were going on the assumption that a different shiny object of desire or television show would soon occupy your mind and that all thought of that toy would disappear.
Fellow members of Generation Y, tonight’s State of the Union will be the mother of all maybes. As President George W. Bush lays out his plans for Social Security, please try your hardest not to be distracted because what he’s proposing affects you much more than it affects the gray-haired politicos seated in the House chamber.
The cornerstone of Bush’s plan for Social Security is the creation of private accounts. He argues that private investment will give people a chance to get more bang more their buck, but many economists disagree. This idea is such a political hot potato that pundits tend to underemphasize the second critical result of a change in Social Security: benefit cuts. Why give less airtime to the other elephant in the room? It doesn’t affect them or their primary audience… but it does affect YOU.
We are the ones hardest hit by the benefit cuts. If Bush succeeds in privatizing Social Security, the trillions of dollars in transition costs will doom one generation to biting the bullet and taking a benefit cut for everyone else. Trying to cut benefits of Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers is political suicide, so Bush will go after the one age group that he knows will be apathetic enough to let something like this slip by.
So how do we as a generation stop this looting and pillaging knowing that our political and financial means cannot outmatch our older, more powerful opponents? Think back to your childhood: When was the one time when your parents were powerless to stop you from getting all the great things you wanted? When was the one time when you were sure you could outmaneuver them? When your grandparents came to town, of course! The same charade that failed to convince your parents melted your grandparents’ heart, and you knew you had free reign at the toy store.
If we want to protect our right to Social Security benefits, we need to team up with seasoned political groups, like the AARP, and start a broad-based campaign that will be catalyzed by the exuberance of the young and the funding of the old. The AARP opposes the changes to Social Security on principle; anything that takes money out of the system is a threat to their base. Together with this national association of grandparents, we can shift public opinion about the insidious nature of the President’s agenda. Recent polling data shows that most Americans aren’t wild about “privatized” Social Security in the first place. In fact, if you listen closely to the State of the Union, you will hear the word “personal” and not “private.” Don’t be fooled—this is deliberate deception by the President, and he hopes you’re not paying attention. Targeted campaigns run by the AARP and other powerful lobbying groups have undercut the administration’s fear-mongering to some extent and demonstrated that the American people haven’t given the President carte blanche to change fundamental institutions.
I see one of two possible outcomes, depending on our decision. If we choose to fight for the thousands of dollars to which we are entitled, we may reduce or prevent the damage. On the other hand, if we do nothing and play right into the administration’s game plan, then we will be left with a veneer of security. We will be getting the cheap imitation toy. Maybe it won’t be so bad, but it certainly won’t be as great as the real thing.
Jimmy Soni is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every other Wednesday.
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