Nearly eight decades after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935, the program remains the most popular ever instituted by the U.S. government. Just last year, 79 percent of respondents to a CNN/ORC poll rated Social Security “good for the country.” In the same survey, an astonishing 73 percent agreed that “Social Security is something that the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to do.”
Support for the program is both deep and broad, cutting across the political spectrum. In a November 2011 survey of self-identified Tea Party supporters (many of whom doubtless railed fervently against Obamacare), 34 percent opposed cuts to Social Security. Among Republicans generally, 49 percent see Social Security as sacrosanct, a fact that George W. Bush learned the hard way during his brief, failed attempt to reform the program in his second term.
This is sad because Social Security is every bit as offensive to liberty and fiscal sanity as Obamacare. In fact, you could not have had the latter without the former. Social Security has been conditioning Americans since FDR to think it is the proper role for government to extract resources from some citizens in order to subsidize the lives of other citizens - to care for some at the expense of the rest.
Once our body politic accepted this fundamental role of government, Medicare, welfare, Obamacare (or something very much like it) and all the rest of the unaffordable entitlement programs were all but inevitable. Obamacare will put us over the edge, to be sure, but make no mistake: It was Social Security that put us on the road to fiscal disaster and moral lethargy.
It also is the prime instrument by which the federal government has extracted greater and greater control over our lives. In the American Spectator, Eric Peters called the Social Security number “the government-issued ear tag every calf (oops, citizen) is issued at birth.” Mr. Peters continues:
“The S.S. number … is the number the government uses to make sure you pay your taxes, to keep track of where you work (and how much you earn), where you bank (and how much you have in the bank), where you live, whom you marry, whether you have children (each of them to be issued their own ear tag in turn) and so on … .”
The Tea Partyers who loathe Obamacare while cashing their Social Security checks should ask themselves: Would Obamacare even be remotely enforceable without a government-issued, mandatory ID number to keep track of you and your money? It is no accident that Obamacare will require a massive expansion of the Internal Revenue Service. As U.S. News & World Report said, “The Internal Revenue Service says it will need a battalion of 1,054 new auditors and staffers and new facilities at a cost to taxpayers of more than $359 million in fiscal 2012 just to watch over the initial implementation of President Obama’s health care reforms.”
FDR and his New Deal co-conspirators were smart fellows; they knew exactly what they were doing. Taking advantage of the country’s terrible, Depression-induced economic insecurity, they began drugging the nation with a little tyranny in exchange for the illusion of security. Americans happily made the trade in the 20th century and now wail and cry as this corrupt bargain extinguishes liberty in the 21st century.
If we were a serious people, we would not be wondering if the Supreme Court will save us from Obamacare. We would be pulling out the entitlement state by its pernicious roots, starting with Social Security, in order to save our nation from insolvency and decay. But seniors can rest easy: We are no longer a serious people and are getting less serious by the hour.
Matt Patterson is the Warren T. Brookes Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and senior editor at the Capital Research Center.
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