Dear President Obama,
Attached is my original Social Security card, though with the number and signature screened. I am proud to have carried it so long, for more years than anything I own. I hope you understand how much many of us cherish these little cards, symbols of a social contract that came about in the Great Depression and was cemented after World War 2. Please do not become the first president to break that deep connection.
As a former legislator, I truly understand the painful necessity for compromise in order to pass budgets. I took the opportunity on many occasions in the legislature to vote “no” when my vote was not truly needed, but I also went along when the votes were needed and the floor fights were over. This is not one of those brutal occasions, however. As you well know, Social Security is not related to the present budget debate at all. Social Security will not become insolvent, if ever, for another several decades, and it can be repaired by rational adjustments.
Our so-called budget crisis was consciously created by past administrations that spent trillions on unfunded wars, tax loopholes and the bail out of Wall Street in response to a deep recession. Ideologically, the corporate and Republican intent for 60 years has been to rid the capitalist market of all those government policies – social insurance, union rights, public education, public health systems, environmental protection, campaign finance reform, etc. – that “interfere” with the unfettered access of private capital to markets, natural resources and exploitable labor, not only here at home but across the world.
Instead of yielding to their browbeating, the best course is to extend the core provisions of the New Deal – along with equal rights and environmental protection – to American global policy as a whole.
When I was growing up, the corporations evaded the New Deal by creating runaway shops in the segregated tax and low-wage havens of our South. In more recent years, they escaped the New Deal by creating the world of runaway sweatshops. Our foreign policy should be to make the world safe for democracy, not for global sweatshops servicing our richest blue-chip corporations. Our trade agreements should be built on fair labor and environmental safeguards, as you once promised. Our health and environmental policies should not result in the export of runaway air, water, and soil pollution, cancer and birth defects, nor the fatal acceleration of the climate crisis. Our arms sales should not fuel civil wars and prop up authoritarians. Our tax policy should not result in the establishment of offshore havens. It is time to corral the runaways. It is hardly capital alone that should be globalized in our era, but democracy, human rights, education and planetary protections.
The defense of Social Security should be a turning point in finally reversing of this Republican market fundamentalism. I appreciate politically your theme of “balance” between tax increases and budget cuts, which has put the Republicans on the defensive before voters. But you should understand that most progressives, especially seniors, would go much further than your formulation allows. Many of us believe that life is far more important than market or property values, and that people should be liberated as much as possible from arduous and exploitative work, so that we can maximize the hours of the day and the days of our lives spent on family time, vacations and travel, culture and education, love and leisure. A little loafing is a good thing compared to the treadmill, the rat race, and the workaholism most people are forced to endure. Social Security is far more than a protection against the costs of old age. It allows millions of people to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Even if you are only bluffing with the Republicans and Wall Street Democrats – as I hope you are – I am sure you realize that the bluffing comes with costs. First, it legitimizes cuts in Social Security for Democratic policy-makers in the future; and second, it makes millions of elderly and vulnerable people, and their families and caregivers, permanently anxious about whether they will have the rights to comfort in their final years.
Thank you for your consideration.