The Language of Social Security Reform

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Language of Social Security Reform

Republican operatives are working overtime to ensure that all of the voices advocating a radical reshaping of Social Security use the GOP's prescribed terminology. Consider this post by Jacob Sullum of the libertarian magazine Reason (you'll appreciate Sullum's not so subtle reference to Armstrongate):
Greg Crist, director of communications for the House Republican Conference, liked my column on Social Security. Well, most of it.

As he explained in an e-mail message, he did not care for my use of certain explicit language that he feels has no place in public discussion of the president's reform plan:

"Every day, we fight reporters and Democrats for using the term 'privatization' b/c every poll worth its salt shows it frightens the public.

"And here you write a great article, but use the term in the headline and everywhere else!

"Can you help us out please? Dems love to demagogue. We shouldn't help them."

Bad as it is for Republicans to covertly buy the assistance of commentators, it may be worse when they assume you're on their team without having the decency to pay you.

For the record, the word privatization appears only once in [my original] column, and not in the headline. But I do use the word private half a dozen times to describe the individual retirement accounts about which the president promised: "The money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away." He also described it as a "nest egg" that "you'll be able to pass along ... to your children or grandchildren." Sounds pretty private to me.

Still, it's true that the contributions, investment choices, and withdrawals all would be regulated, so Crist has a point. Maybe "forced, socialized savings accounts" would be a better description, although I'm not sure how well it would poll.
The pro-private accounts crowd may be united in the desire to radically alter Social Security, but they certainly don't see eye to eye on what the final plan should look like.

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