Following the Civil War, the Republican Party won elections by characterizing their opponents as the party responsible for the conflict. These fear tactics carried the GOP to several successes over the course of about 20 years.
This election strategy is still alive and well today. Now, it’s liberals who are “waving the bloody shirt,” this time through wild exaggerations of conservatives’ plans for Social Security reform.
This is nothing new. The Wall Street Journal, in an article detailing this “Social Security Bait and Switch,” writes that scare tactics centered around the threat of terminating Social Security “have been regular campaign themes since FDR.” Were President Reagan alive today, he may even utter again his famous campaign retort: There they go again.
The left is using Social Security as a central attack against opponents, claiming that conservatives are intent on “privatizing” Social Security if they gain back control of Congress. There is a huge flaw with this approach.
By demonizing conservatives, President Obama and company are making it ever less likely that the President’s deficit commission will successfully reach a consensus—as they were tasked by the President to do—on a strategy for reform. If their tactic works, that momentary short-term gain will come at the cost of untold billions in additional deficits as the chance to fix Social Security is significantly delayed.
The Wall Street Journal writes: “The irony is that the fiscal condition of Social Security could be substantially improved simply by readjusting its actuarial formulas to slow the growth rate of benefits. But Republicans are unlikely to sign on even to that if they’re going to be demonized for such a modest ‘cut’ anyway, much less endorse a reform like raising the future retirement age. Mr. Obama says he wants to cut a deal, but encouraging Democrats this year to box themselves in against any change will make serious reforms that much harder next year.”
Some liberals have expressed opposition to any changes whatsoever to Social Security, further antagonizing reform efforts. In an editorial, e21, a think tank that focuses on economic policy, writes, “Given that Social Security’s fiscal imbalance has been well documented by everyone from the Congressional Budget Office to the General Accounting Office to the program’s own actuaries and trustees, [Social Security reform] would seem to be a rational step to take. But once again, a cacophony of voices has arisen to argue that nothing about Social Security warrants changing any time soon.”
By attacking any changes at all to Social Security, liberals are increasingly backing themselves into a corner, a position that will make it exceedingly difficult to act on much-needed reform.