FDR, Bush And Social Security

US President George W. Bush over US Social Security card, 2005/2/2 AP

This column from The Nation was written by John Nichols.
President Bush is losing his fight to privatize Social Security.

Even his own allies, such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., are warning the president that he cannot force the American people to accept the radical reworking of Social Security that Bush's allies in the financial services industry want.

In fact, the only hope the president has left is outright distortion of the facts -- by the White House and by its amen corner in the media.

The Fox News Channel, which has a long history of being more loyal to the Bush administration than it is to the truth, is currently peddling the biggest of the big lies.

Fox news analyst Brit Hume and other Fox personalities have begun claiming that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an iconic figure among elderly Americans at least in part because of the role he played in creating the Social Security system, favored privatizations schemes of the sort that President Bush is pushing.

"It turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it," claimed Hume in a recent broadcast, where he also suggested that Roosevelt wanted the federal program to ultimately be supplanted by "self-supporting annuity plans."

To "substantiate" his statement, Hume rearranged Roosevelt's words to fake up "quotes" that seemed to suggest the 32nd president would have approved of undermining the Social Security system in order to enrich Wall Street.

The former president's grandson, James Roosevelt Jr., was so offended by Hume's abuse of FDR's words that he said last week, "(Hume) rearranged those sentences in an outrageous distortion, one that really calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation."

James Roosevelt Jr. is not merely a guardian of his grandfather's legacy, he is a former associate commissioner for the Social Security system. In other words, he knows what he is talking about.

That's more than can be said for Hume and other conservative commentators -- notably William Bennett and the Wall Street Journal's John Fund -- who have tried to suggest that FDR would have favored privatization.

"It is really quite amazing to me that all of the folks supporting privatization, from the president on down, keep invoking the name of my grandfather, Franklin Delano Roosevelt," says James Roosevelt. "I think it's, in a way, it is flattering to him. It is testimony to how successful the program that he put in place has been and continues to be."

Asked by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann whether his grandfather was opposed to the sort of privatization schemes the Bush administration is now proposing, James Roosevelt said, "I'm definitely convinced of that."

Noting that "the dedicated Social Security tax has been very successful over the years in raising almost all of our elderly citizens out of poverty," where half of them were in poverty before Social Security, James Roosevelt said of his grandfather, "I'm convinced he never intended to phase it out."

Here's a tip: In the great debate over Social Security, put your faith in people named Roosevelt, not Bush - or certainly not Hume.


ByJohn Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation

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