It’s difficult to get Republican candidates to provide straight talk about Social Security and Medicare during an election year because both programs are immensely popular with voters and the candidates would rather not be too specific about possible reforms. They remember the dismal failure of George W. Bush to build support for privatizing Social Security in his second term. These programs provide some measure of protection against living unfed and ill somewhere in the underbrush behind a Kroger store and within eye shot of its dumpster if one is disabled, elderly, or orphaned.
Republicans often do not want to deal with what they consider the weak spots in society because they have personal delusions of strength and grandeur, both of which drive their devotion to Big Business and the Military Industrial Complex over social programs that remind them of human vulnerability. Their bravado and chronic saber rattling are simple posturing inasmuch as only two of the GOP candidates have any military experience: Lindsey Graham, whose campaign could gain no traction, and Jim Gilmore (Jim who?), who has been sitting grimly at the kids’ table in the debates despite his background as a former Virginia governor, lawyer, and counter intelligence agent in the U.S. Army. The remaining candidates likely could not explain the difference between a military division and a unit, but it would be fun watching them try, as Trump did when asked a question about the “nuclear triad.”
If you are an Ayn Randian Objectivist, a Libertarian, or someone who recoils at any symptom of weakness or bad luck, your notions are pretty much hardened. But if you acknowledge the real world wherein people age and get sick, where accidents and diseases rob people of their ability to support their families, and where parents die and leave their children unsupported, you realize that the social safety net is critical to the social order of the nation. If you are wealthy and have resources as far out as the eye can see, you probably don’t worry about these things. But if you’re feeling current income inequality squeezing you closer to the bottom of the economy where competition for even low paying jobs is unimaginably vigorous, then you probably appreciate that the U.S. reached important socially responsible and moral planes under FDR (Social Security and food assistance), Eisenhower (Social Security Disability), and Johnson (Medicare).
So what are the current candidates’ positions regarding Social Security, the most high-profile program of the social safety net? Follow this link to a chart prepared by the Center for Retirement Research. That chart shows the great divide between the parties and among those who would change Social Security, with most Republicans wanting to reduce benefits, while the Democrats want to increase them. Measure their positions against the current flat wages, lack of well paying jobs, decline in defined benefits (pensions), barely existent interest rates for bank held savings, and the current bearish trend in the stock market.
No one disputes that personal responsibility is critical to civilized life; therefore, personal savings and investment must be always be encouraged. But, for many families “investment” means buying groceries, paying the rent, and having bus fare for work. Under these sorts of circumstances actually saving money is nearly impossible. For some others, those whose earnings have enabled them to be successful savers, we have the recent lesson of the Great Recession that saw those successful savers lose their jobs, be unable to find new ones, exhaust their unemployment benefits, exhaust their savings, and max-out their credit cards just to survive. So be very wary of the vagueness of the policy positions of the political candidates and do take note that some of these candidates are themselves losing their current jobs at the ends of their terms and must look for a new high paying position. Not surprisingly, the Presidency comes with pretty good safety net benefits, as do most elected governmental positions. In his pithiest comment of the night President Obama pointed out in his final State of the Union Address:
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.