Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Paul Ryan, Social Security and Survivor's Benefits

My father died when I was five years old. He was about 36, younger than I am now. When he was still healthy enough to work, he worked at a local lumber mill and before that, as a surveyor for the county. There's frankly no way he had personally earned enough in his adult life to cover survivor's benefits for me and my sisters, aged three and 16, from then until each of us turned 18.

But that's what my family received, and it meant that my religiously inclined stay-at-home mom with almost no adult history of paid employment (or paying into Social Security, obviously) didn't lose the house. When she remarried, she was able to continue staying home with us.

Consider it a stark illustration of the difference between defined benefit vs. defined contribution programs.

In other words, Social Security allowed my working class family to live the kind of traditional nuclear family lifestyle that you practically have to be a Romney, a Ryan, a Palin, or a Santorum to afford anymore in a two-parent household. In traditional conservative circles, they'll still make working class men feel like failures because their stagnant wages don't cover a multi-person household anymore, and make working class women feel like failures as wives and mothers for not being true to their 'proper' roles, but that only goes so far. Guilt pays no one's rent. Even very conservative denominations like my parents' church have had to increasingly tolerate the fact that most married women have to seek paid employment at some point.

Ryan knows something about this sort of situation himself, since Paul Ryan also received survivor benefits when his father died, and was able to use them to finance his public university education. I feel bad for him losing a parent at a young age, but I also feel especially qualified to despise that he would turn around and pull the ladder up behind him for all the other families whose incomes don't cover private life insurance plans if they should die young.

Because Paul Ryan wants to cut Social Security to the bone and replace it with individual investment accounts, turning it into a 401(k)-style defined contribution program that would enrich Wall Street, with even smaller defined benefits going to the mostly working class recipients.

Just as Ryan's hero, Ayn Rand, used Social Security and Medicare, just as Mitt Romney can hardly seem to find a business community spokesperson who hasn't been a government contractor or gotten government support, Republicans are always stating their certainty that government help will surely destroy the moral character of any recipients they don't personally know.

Which is why, no doubt, Romney has embraced Ryan's budget plan. Romney's said doesn't think it would really hurt anyone to cut the social safety net, and maybe he really doesn't know better. Paul Ryan could tell him differently, but won't, because ... well, why does it matter?

It's purely vile to take help when you're in need and then turn around and ruin that help for others facing similar hardships. The motivation doesn't really enter into it as a mitigating factor, in my opinion, presuming that the truth of that motivation were even possible to determine.

Social Security takes care of people who are too old or sick to work anymore. It takes care of the widows and orphans of people who didn't live long enough to reach that state. In short, quietly and efficiently, without requiring membership in a church or big charity banquets where the donors are lavishly praised and celebrated, this country has been living the theoretically Christian ideal of taking care of the least of those among us at a level that no society in history had ever done before through private charity, with credit owing to even the lowest paid workers in the country.

Ostentatious Bible-thumpers like those running the Republican Party right now should appreciate that, because I know from my youthful readings that those ideals were pretty high on the list of things Jesus was said to care about. Unlike abortion or gays, which he didn't discuss, the Jesus of the Bible could barely stop talking about taking care of the poor and sick and disadvantaged. Dude could not shut up about it. Paul Ryan, who belongs to a church whose clergy have often been targeted for assassination in developing nations for helping the poor, should appreciate that. Paul Ryan, who was an orphan himself, should be able to bring some small fraction of the compassion he lauds for a 10-cell zygote to his public policy work if he's going to try and trade on a 'pro-life' aura derived from the faith he trades on.

The Republican Party has done well for themselves taking on the mantle of a lay ministry tending to the souls of change-averse whites. They've gotten all kinds of undeserved moral authority by playing semi-spiritual figures hawking God for secular political leverage. Though when you're also a transparent shill for aristocrats like Mitt Romney who simply want all the money to themselves and their VIP friends, there's only so far that a political performance art homage to the Carpenter of Galilee should really be able to take you before you can't open your mouth anymore without being laughed at.

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