Rick Perry’s Ponzi-scheme claim is in no way unprecedented

Rick Perry and Mitt Romney went after each other at the debate over this term “Ponzi scheme.”

Janet M. LaRue

Janet M. LaRue  

Romney’s Ponzi Phobia


When it comes to Social Security, Republicans should stop treating seniors like the feeble-minded demographic portrayed in commercials written by 13-year-olds on Madison Avenue.

It’s like the home security commercial targeting seniors for a medical alert pendant to be worn around the neck. White-haired “Mom” didn’t want one because “it was for “some old person.” But daughter, seen patting Mom’s hand, “talked Mom into it.” Next we see “Mom” carrying a basket of laundry down a flight of uncarpeted stairs without holding the handrail. Sure enough, Mom’s lying at the bottom of the staircase pressing her alert button because she’s fallen, broken her hip and can’t get up because “the pain was terrible.” “Mom” and daughter are so glad that she was wearing her alert and could summon help.

You expect to see a disclaimer at the end: “Don’t try this at home. These are actors who are paid to behave stupidly. You could hurt yourself.”

Madison Avenue convinced the marketing geniuses at the security company that they can sell more medical alerts by scaring seniors even if it insults them. I don’t patronize a company run by upstarts who think senior is synonymous with senile. I doubt that many seniors do.

Gov. Mitt Romney and political commentators, such as Karl Rove and Dick Morris, are treating seniors as condescendingly as the commercial. To hear them tell it, if Gov. Rick Perry calls Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme,” seniors will have a seizure, and press a political alert hanging around our neck, which will connect us to the Obama campaign.

Not likely, unless we fall down the stairs and land on our head.

Seniors didn’t put Barack Hussein Obama in the White House. Those of us 65 and over are the only voting bloc who chose McCain over Obama—and by eight percentage points.

Obama’s disapproval rating is at 55 percent and his approval rating is 44 percent. It means that other voting blocs are beginning to wise up to what seniors knew in 2008. Seniors are the least likely group to vote for Obama in 2012.

For one thing, we rejected Obama’s outrageous and vague promise to fundamentally transform the greatest nation in history. And certainly not by a community organizer with a resume thinner than our hair who thinks voting “absent” is leadership and that America should repent for its greatness.

Our sight and hearing may be diminished, but we still know bovine scatology when we smell it.

Seniors deal with hard truth every day. Many of us handle it without our beloved spouse at our side. Health and financial concerns are more pressing. We live on a fixed income and still know the checkbook has to balance. We’re not the demographic maxing out credit cards and living beyond our means. Many dear old friends reside only in our memories. We know that our days dwindle down to a precious few. But it doesn’t mean that our minds have departed.

We certainly can handle the truth that Social Security isn’t sustainable for our children and grandchildren. We know that without a major restructuring, it will remain a pyramid scheme deficient of funds and contributors, a sham promise of retirement security for future generations.

The Social Security trustees released a 244-page report on Monday revealing the gravity of the situation. Page 13 states that payroll tax contributions for 2010 were $544.8 billion; total expenditures were $584.9 billion. That’s a $40 billion deficit. The Department of Labor released a report on Monday stating that there are only 1.5 workers supporting Social Security for every one recipient.

During the Republican debate on Monday night, Romney again accused Perry of scaring seniors by calling Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme.” Where does Romney get the idea that we were clueless until Perry mentioned it?

What is over the top is Romney’s pretense or delusion that Perry coined the term. Stanley Kurtz of National Review cites scores of uses of the term by Republicans and Democrats, academics, and journalists, long enough for Romney to have heard it long before Perry said it. Kurtz concludes in “Perry and the Ponzis”:

Our historical tour of the claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme confirms what we already knew: Rick Perry’s remarks are uncharacteristically bold for a politician, most especially a candidate in the midst of a presidential race. Yet Perry’s Ponzi-scheme claim is in no way unprecedented. On the contrary, the Ponzi comparison has been a staple of conservative warnings about Social Security’s financial soundness for decades.

So the question today is not simply whether Rick Perry will be punished or rewarded for showing the honesty even many liberal commentators once pined for. The more interesting issue raised by this historical investigation may be the fate of the Democratic Party and the media. Where today are the liberal and centrist Democrats who only yesterday called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supported bold reforms? Where now are the columnists and editors at Newsweek and the New York Times willing to reward truth-tellers and to criticize reporters who cover for cowardly politicians? The fate of Rick Perry’s blunt talk may tell us more than we want to know, not only about Social Security, but also about who we are and what we have become.

What scares most seniors is that our country will be lying at the bottom of the stairs, broken and unable to get up if it remains in the hands of Barack Obama.

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