Bush supporters

Last Sunday, Easter, I found myself in a nearly empty trailer park (it fills up during hunting season, I was told) in the tiny Colusa County community of Princeton, listening to a discussion by park residents and their visitors on the president’s call for Social Security reform. “He’s only doing what is best for us,” pointed out a leathery-faced, white-haired fellow who lives in a fifth-wheel there. “Government people don’t want us to have retirement programs like they’ve got,” he said. “They invest their retirement and it grows. Not ours, though.” President Bush, he reasoned, was looking out for regular people like the ones assembled here. I didn’t want to be drawn into the discussion. I had my own ideas, which probably didn’t square well with the opinions of the others. They trust the president because they can relate to him as a plain-talking good old boy. At least that is the image. In fact, Bush is a blue-blooded rich kid, not a trailer-park guy who enjoys fishing for shad and shooting at ducks in Colusa County.

There is an interesting piece by Hendrik Hertzberg in the March 28 New Yorker concerning Bush’s attempts to kill the Social Security system. Hertzberg writes that the president is hoping to replace the current system—workers pay in, the money is held in bonds and, when they retire, it is given back to them—with a trust-fund portfolio, not unlike what the president has long enjoyed, courtesy of his old man’s considerable wealth. We’ve all heard (and been jealous) of trust-fund kids. “[O]nly instead of Mom and Dad putting in the money you put it in yourself,” Hertzberg writes, “and the more you put in (i.e., the better off you were to begin with) the more you get out, unless your investments go bad, in which case you end up old and poor, unless you’re rich, in which case you end up just old. And rich.” Bush argues that the Social Security system is not really a trust, that its value is based on pieces of paper, without intrinsic worth. That’s also true of the 10s and 20s we carry around in our wallets, Hertzberg points out. “The entire economy runs on promises—that is, trust—which is why paranoid survivalists convert their assets to guns and cans of tuna fish.”

Hertzberg argues that, while the effort to end the system is said to be motivated by high-minded ideals like “freedom” to chose, in reality, “Social Security—like the public-school system, the progressive income tax, the neighborhood public library, the subways and buses, food stamps, and a host of other socialistic schemes—runs counter to the narrow economic interests of the rich, because they generally have to put more money into it than they get out.” It’s true; Social Security doesn’t do the wealthy any good—its meager monthly stipends won’t pay for a new Hummer or trip to the Virgin Islands. But for decades it has provided a safety net for regular Americans—like the people in the nearly empty Colusa County trailer park. Now Bush and his supporters—including these Colusa County residents—want to take away the net and gamble their retirement on the stock market.

I am scheduled to be on Rick Carr’s KZFR show Run the Gamut today (March 31) sometime between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to help with that station’s spring pledge drive. I did this a couple of times for another local station, but it didn’t work out so well. Not only did regular listeners refuse to call in and make pledges while I was on the air, those who had phoned during an earlier time slot began calling to cancel their pledges. I nearly ruined the station and as a result was never asked back. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to KZFR.