A Mob of One

We were outside, between the pool, the keg and the fire pit, when one of my guests said to another, “I can't wait for your generation to fucking die!” He repeated himself in case the man to whom he was speaking hadn't picked up on his vehemence. “I cannot fucking wait!”

This baby shower was turning out fun!

And to top it all off, the man was speaking thusly to his father-in-law.

I've had some pretty bitchen parties in my day, but this one was smokin'.

We were talking, of course, about SocialSecurity—allthe kids are doin' it these days! The old guy is a libertarianasshole who doesn't believe in Social Security, giving poor people government cheese or immigration (he had some choice words about it in front of his own silent Mexicanwife and also in front of the immigrant nurse who cares for our friend with MS). His son-in-law is in his mid-30s, from Europe (I smell a socialist!) and really pissed-off.

Can't our antipodal generations take a cue from alleged gropers LindsayLohan(who can vote now!) and the 50-year-old BruceWillis?

Eh, probably not. Stupid, ugly old people.

Frankly—and for a change—I was pissed-off, too.

Did you know that aside from all the old folks (rescued from cat food since 1938) and the people with MS (who get disability checks), there are 275,000 children in California who receive survivors'benefitsbecause their parents died? And did you know that my small buttercup of a son is one of them because he lost his first mommy when he was a baby?

It was terribly careless of him, I'm sure.

I earn almost exactly California's median income—I'm livin' large, suckas! And yet, without my son's Social Security, there's no possible way (short of moving to Palmdale) we could live in a nice home with a back yard, where my boy gets a dog. (And she's a gooddog! Oh, yes, she is!Isn't she a gooddog!?) We would live in the ghetto like we used to, where the neighbors liked to have gun fun in the front—and sometimes, there were murders!

But now I'm ashamed. Look how entitledI am, hissing and scratching for that governmenthandoutthat my son's first mom paid into the system! I remember reading letters to DearAbbyabout women who were witnessed at the grocery store buying fresh strawberries with food stamps.

God, I'm so selfish! Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Really, I should be more poor.

* * *

I've been reading everything possible on Social Security, including wonkfests like JoshMarshall'sTalkingPointsMemo,which is so very inside baseball it should be fashioned from cork. Not only that, but last week, I had a 50-minute conversation about OC's troubled public pension fund that was freaking enthralling.

So, really, my point is I enjoy boring things.

And that's why I went to the SocialSecurityTownHallmeeting at the TeamstersLocal952in Orange on Saturday morning, with lots of oldsters, someone's teenage son and his four buddies, several black folk, and some people in faux-satin union windbreakers.

Now, how do I explain to you the Bush administration's plan for Social Security without putting you into your soup? To recap it simply: when a group (USA Next) funded by the guys behind the Swift Boat Vetsgoes after the AmericanAssociationofRetiredPeoples(AARP) by claiming AARP is forgay marriage and againstThe Troops™, you can pretty much figure they don't have a lot of positive points on which they can rely. And when the most explicit explanation the Bushadministrationputs forth is a FrankLuntzmemo to GOP types claiming that in order to win, facts and figures should be avoided (since they contradict the administration's claims), you can be pretty sure that, like the old SuicidalTendencieschestnut, your best interests are not what they have in mind.

In the shortest, least-dull paragraph I possibly can: BabyBoomershave been putting money into the Social Security trust fund; in 40 or 50 years, that cushion of money will run out, and the incoming monies will pay only 80 percent of promised Social Security benefits. Bush's plan: divert a percentage of payroll taxes into private accounts to be invested in the stock market. If your stocks do well, you pay back the government for any benefits it “gave” you, and if there's anything left over, you buy yourself an annuity that gives you the poverty rate for the rest of your miserable old life. If your stocks fail (which, as Enronknows, neverhappens),there isnoguaranteedbenefit.No annuity, not even at the poverty rate.

Oh, yeah, and the transition to this new system is gonna cost $2 trillion.

Oh, yeah, again: they admit it does nothing to solve the “crisis.”

Oh, yeah, a third time. Survivors' benefits? Those won't be necessary, but thanks.


* * *

In order to dismantle the nasty, socialist old Social Security, Bush's people have been triangulating beautifully:old vs. young(done and done!), black vs. white(last week, the president said his critics were racists who don't believe blacks are smart enough to invest their own money), and womenvs.men(some Republicans have suggested giving women smaller benefits than men because we live longer, and RushLimbaughhelpfully explained that we live longer because our lives are so easy; selfish, easy-living old me!). But as hard as the Republicans are working (because being president is hard work!), the people just refuse to buy! The president's approval rating on the subject is a terrible 36 percent.

And that's why it was so nice to go to that gol-durned ol' Town Hall meeting. Men, women, blacks, whites, teens (under duress), and lots and lots of old folks gathered together with state Senator JoeDunnand Congresswoman LorettaSanchezand some really shitty coffee to be outraged, insulted and pissed-off as one.

Loretta's never been one of my favorite people—and she probably returns the favor—but on this morning, in her soft pink suit, as she stood onstage and asked—shrieked—of our Dear Leader, “Is he insane?” I felt some love in my shriveled old heart. She explained the president's plan and its problems, she threw out some of Luntz's fearful facts and figures (before Social Security, fully two-thirds of seniors lived under the poverty line while today just 16 percent do, and as for the wonders of the stock market, last year Republican Senator BillFristhimself evaporated half a million in campaign funds that had wisely been invested in it), and she gave us some insight into Washington maneuvers. “What are we gonna do,” she asked, “put seven-year-olds to work? The Republicans have been saying—even a few Democrats have said to me personally—'We can get rid of survivors' benefits; just make it a retirement program.'” Her voice reaching a level that hitherto only dogs could hear, she screeched, “What do we dowith these people?”

It was nice to see Loretta with her dander up. Fight for your right to fight!

* * *

If you're my age—an adorably spring-chickenish 32—you've been told by the Republicans for years that Social Security won't be there when you're old and miserable and smell like mothballs.

They were lying, and we bought it, and now we want “personal” accounts* like our 401k's. You know what we have now that's like our 401k's?

Our 401k's.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in that dashing way of his (and probably with that cigarette clamped 'tween his teeth), called for three parts to our retirements: defined Social Security benefits to provide a minimum level on which to rely; personal savings like 401k's; and pensions. None of us gets a pension anymore except for public employees, and Schwarzenegger's on a mission to kill those. Our 401k's could tank any time—ask the nice people in the 2001 “correction.” And folks now are saying that the Demscan't just be obstructionists; we can't just be the Party of No.

Yes! We can!


It's not up to us to figure out an acceptableway to dismantle Social Security just because the Bushes still call FDRthat man.”

Some people think Bush's plan is a $2 trillion sop to Wall Street. He's never been against a back-scratch, but more, it's a fundamental Calvinisttrope: Bush and his family are wealthy because they're good. (You know, except for Neil.) And Social Security is Socialism they were against from the beginning. Now, as their trusted ideologue GroverNorquistsays, it's the first time in 60 years they've had all their branches of gubmint sewn up, and for the first time, they can pay those New Dealies back. I'd say it's sick, but you know I don't like to preach.

Except for this: It's not up to us to provide their cover. And it fo' sho' isn't up to us to have my mom live with me when she's ancient and even crotchetier than she is now.


Let the old folks have their independence. Pay your stupid payroll taxes, and the kids will pay theirs when you're on the dime.** Don't let yourself get divided with who's getting more because those assholes want to make sure most of us don't get any.And while we're at it, don't begrudge welfare moms some fucking strawberries once in a while, you mean old nasty coot.

As Dear Abby explains, it makes you look small.


* Calling these accounts “private” is biased, WhiteHousePressSecretaryScottMcClellansays, because the president doesn't call them that anymore.

** It's how civilization's supposed to work, just ask John Locke!***

***Unless you prefer your Hobbesianlife: nasty, brutish and short.****

****Like Neil Bush!*****

*****But I don't like to preach.

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