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Happy Birthday, Social Security!

August 13, 2012|By Michael Hiltzik
  • FDR signs the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. Directly behind him, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the program's godmother.
FDR signs the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. Directly behind him,… (Social Security Administration )

For a 77-year-old, Social Security is looking pretty spry today, the anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's signing of the Social Security Act in 1935. The program covers more than 54 million Americans, providing a dignified retirement and keeping the families of premature deceased workers out of poverty. 

Among those who should be celebrating: Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., the newly-anointed GOP candidate for vice-president. As has been widely reported, Ryan's father died in 1986, when the future congressman was 16. The younger Ryan collected Social Security survivor benefits, which he put away for college, until the age of 18.

Yet he returned the favor by proposing one of the most draconian plans to privatize Social Security in 2005. When his proposal was rejected, he signed on as so-sponsor of the Bush Administration plan, which ultimately failed.

But birthdays shouldn't be occasions for brooding over slights and ingratitiude. Let's remember how FDR himself set forth the promise of Social Security on that August day in 1935: 

"The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age. The man with a job has wondered how long the job would last.

"This law...represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.... It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness....If the Senate and the House of Representatives in this long and arduous session had done nothing more than pass this Bill, the session would be regarded as historic for all time."

The Senate and the House have done little more than cover themselves in shame in the way they have trated Social Security over the last few years. They have slandered it as "bankrupt," dismissed its $2.7 trillion in holdings of U.S. treasury bonds as mere IOUs, suggested that we, the richest nation on Earth, can't manage to live up to the promises made by our forebears.

Social Security's birthday is the right moment to remind all Americans that those who propose to "reform" the program are motivated typically by greed and ideology. they're Wall Streeters who want to get their hands on your money, or right-wingers who have never reconciled themselves to the government's playing a crucial role in keeping its citizens free from want. 

They want to "fix" Social Security, they say. Sure--the same way one "fixes" a cat. don't believe them. Social Security is the single most successful government program in American history, bar none. Anyone wanting to "reform" it has a lot of explaining to do.

Related items:

The young don't buy the anti-Social Security propaganda

Alan Simpson is ore wrong than ever on Social Security 

Make Social Security even better--give everyone a raise

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