Our Harvard-educated president took his own cut at that particular ball last week as he marked the 75th anniversary of Social Security, an institution, you must understand that Republicans hate and are out to "privatize."
"I'll fight," said Mr. Obama in his weekly radio address, "with everything I've got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street. Because you shouldn't be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you've worked so hard for -- all you've earned -- to risk."
Oh. Like Social Security as we know it? The venerable system whose anniversary we mark this summer will, starting in 2017, begin paying out more in benefits than it takes in. And keep doing so, in the absence of surgery. While the debts stack up, we'll nod our glazed eyes at Democratic assertions concerning Evil Republicans Who Can't Wait to Make Social Security a Wall Street Plaything.
If memory serves, we've heard this "privatization" talk before. Wasn't it back when the Evil George W. Bush sought to address Social Security's problems by proposing American workers be allowed to invest a portion of their payments in private instruments? Nothing got done then. Democrats reasoned they had less to lose by insulting the voters' intelligence than by undertaking reforms that might, to one degree or another, actually make the problem less dangerous.
It's quite a stretch from invest-a-portion-of-profits to hand the system over to Wall Street, but when you've decided to insult general intelligence, you might as well go for broke. The bigger and more outlandish the accusation, the bigger and saltier waves it makes, politically speaking.
Obama is only the most visible of the distortion-peddlers. He has lots of company. Circulated among House Democrats, a memorandum makes the point that "Republicans promise once again to privatize and cut your Social Security -- turning it over to the whims of Wall Street."
Is it any wonder the Social Security crisis just lies there unaddressed -- "the third rail of American politics." Talk about doing something that would actually matter, and some political obfuscator will attempt to shove you from the station platform down to the tracks. Here, in 2010, we go again.
The current Real Clear Politics average for congressional job approval, as reflected in national polls, is 20 percent. Seventy-two percent, by contrast, disapprove of how Congress is functioning. Obama's average job approval rating is 44.4 percent, versus 50.80 percent disapproval.
Everyone knows how complex are the reasons for both disparities, including the country's just plain bad mood in a recession that won't go away. Could not another large reason be the political strategy (if that's not too dignified a word for it) of riling up voters and insulting their intelligence by twisting out of shape interesting and maybe useful ideas?
As with Social Security. It's rank deception to suggest what our choices are, sail right along with a bankrupt system or sell the whole apparatus to Wall Street. No Republican, as Democrats, including the president, certainly know, proposes any such thing. For partial -- partial, if you please -- recourse to private investment of Social Security monies to help at all, government would have to tread carefully. The two political parties would have to put their heads together in good faith, working not for advantage but for -- how odd! -- the people's long-term interests.
Could it be that all those voters turned off by their representative institutions aren't as dumb as their representatives think? What if it's the governing class itself whose reasoning powers have fled? And what if -- here's the really big deal -- we the people know it?