January 19, 2005
Social Security, strategery � and South ParkBy Thomas Lifson
Astute political observers such as Bill Kristol have puzzled over President Bush giving top second term priority to Social Security reform. Unlike tax cuts or other possible priorities, the payoff for private Social Security accounts will come many years in the future, when currently young voters retire. Why spend so much political capital when there is no immediate gain? Just because it is the right thing to do?
Unquestionably, the President believes in the wisdom of changing Social Security from an income transfer system to a capital accumulation/income generation system. But there is also a sophisticated and visionary political strategy at work, one which has largely escaped the notice of his critics and opponents.
Characteristically, President Bush chooses a limited number of fundamental priorities, and makes certain that each item will serve several different ends, while reinforcing the other priorities. This sophisticated approach to strategy, which he learned in the classrooms of Harvard Business School, will probably be known to future historians by the neologism coined by comedian Will Ferrell to mock the President: strategery.
Social Security reform is an essential ingredient in transforming American politics and solidifying an emerging era of Republican dominance. Allowing younger Americans to accumulate their own investment accounts will help realize the goal of creating the 'ownership society' of which the President has long spoken. Those who possess investment accounts tend to see politics differently from those who possess only a claim on public resources as their last—ditch safeguard against old age poverty. Opinion surveys show that those with stock portfolios overwhelmingly support the GOP.
This much is obvious, and no doubt accounts for some of the Democrat opposition to the President's reform plan.
What is less obvious is that Social Security reform will also continue the process of converting young voters into a Republican constituency. Cultural trends already at work will be turbo—charged by self—interest, when the young start accumulating capital they own and control in their Social Security investment accounts.
Blinded by their own self—regard, the left is clueless: it is starting to become hip to be conservative. The left is accustomed to the notion that adolescents and young adults are naturally inclined to support it, or at a minimum, to reject out—of—hand the despicable, retrograde, un—hip, boring, and disgusting (as they see them) conservatives. This conceit leaves the left oblivious to the existence, much less the causes, of the demographic disaster it faces, once it no longer has a sufficient infusion of young and na�ve idealists to replace those who grow—up and wise—up when they start paying taxes, raising kids, and taking responsibility for their decisions.
How can this be? After all, the left controls the cultural high ground — the music and film industries, most of the television networks, and especially the public schools, colleges and universities, not to mention the foundations. They are free to feed an intellectual diet of America as the source of evil and of conservatives as hypocritical and small—minded, to young and impressionable minds. It all worked splendidly for decades, as young adults consistently supported the Democrats at the polls, and dutifully believed the clich�s they were spoon—fed by the cultural establishment.
Inescapably, the young firebrands aged, and because they won so much in the late 1960's and afterward, they became old and powerful. They became the Establishment, even though they still think of themselves as young rebels strangely somehow endowed with graying hair these days. Most importantly, leftists became the established power faced by young people daily as they pass through the educational obstacle course guarding adulthood from their untrained minds: teachers, school administrators, college admissions boards, and media authority figures.
Now it is a hormonal and life stage reality that adolescents and post—adolescents are given to rebelling against authority figures. They must, after all, establish themselves as responsible adults able to make their own decisions. However, the authority figures faced by those in school are almost all either leftists, or following curricula and rules imposed by leftists. Speech codes, zero tolerance, empty pieties about designated victim groups, and other leftist—instilled self—evident nonsense daily assault the young entrusted to the care of the American educational establishment.
At least since the era of J.D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, young people in America have seen phoniness as the main enemy. In fact our entire culture has spent the last half century regarding hypocrisy as worse than the seven deadly sins.
The left had traditionally made the exposure of phoniness its own specialty, to devastating political and cultural effect. Look at the portrayal in movies of, say, Catholic priests, evangelicals, small businessmen, executives, or Republicans, and you will see that the vast majority are either comically hypocritical or irredeemably evil. Usually they are battled, exposed, or ridiculed by left wing heroes from the ranks of journalists, lawyers, teachers, or even youngsters. The ability of the American cultural apparat to propagate such stock figures into the collective consciousness has been absolutely powerful.
But absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Certain of their own control over the archetypes embraced by the young, the left heedlessly believed it could sell anything to the young. And blinded by self—regard, while unconstrained by belief in any absolutes outside of their own virtue, they have been peddling appalling BS to the young for years: affirmative action isn't discrimination; women and men are just the same; America is evil; the government knows better than you how to live your life; the Islamofascists in Iraq are patriotic revolutionaries.
And Social Security will always be there for you, so pay up now, and get set to pay up even more later on.
Americans under thirty are more inclined to believe in UFOs than they are to believe that Social Security will be there for them when they retire. And the current effort to enact Social Security reform addresses this realism directly, citing the fact that in 1950, sixteen Americans were paying in, for every American receiving benefits, but today the number is three, and it will fall to two when today's young people are receiving their benefits. Television commercials are right now driving home the point graphically.
George Bush, Karl Rove, and American conservatives have an ally which is nearly invisible to them: the cable television series South Park. Because it is vulgar and crude, because it is aimed at a young audience, and because it intends to gross out its viewers, South Park has very few viewers in the conservative establishment, and even fewer fans. Nevertheless, it has become an indispensable ally in the conversion of the young into a conservative constituency.
The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are probably libertarians more than conservatives. But first and foremost, the are satirists intent on gaining an audience, and they know very well that their young viewers deeply resent being lied to, propagandized, and condescended to by the proximate establishment in the schools and media. Therefore, they find their targets with a mind toward figures with whom their audience is familiar. These include the likes of Barbra Streisand, Paris Hilton, and the tolerance rhetoric—spouting pedophiles of NAMBLA.
In possibly the most famous and politically—potent South Park episode of all, one of the four children starring in the show is gulled into joining NAMBLA, deceived by the fine sounding rhetoric:
NAMBLA Leader: ...Our forefathers came to this country because... they believed in an idea. An idea called "freedom." They wanted to live in a place where a group couldn't be prosecuted for their beliefs. Where a person can live the way he chooses to live. [Stan, Kyle, and Cartman look at each other] You see us as being perverted because we're different from you. People are afraid of us, because they don't understand. And sometimes it's easier to persecute than to understand. [Stan and Kyle look at each other, then at the NAMBLA leader]
Kyle: Dude. You have sex with children.
NAMBLA Leader: We are human. Most of us didn't even choose to be attracted to young boys. We were born that way. We can't help the way we are, and if you all can't understand that, well, then, I guess you'll just have to put us away. [shots of the agents, then the Brando look—alikes, then Stan and Kyle, who look at each other, then at the NAMBLA leader]
Kyle: [slowly, for emphasis] Dude. You have sex with children.
Stan: Yeah. You know, we believe in equality for everybody, and tolerance, and all that gay stuff, but dude, f*** you.
I am the first to admit that there is a vast difference in kind between Social Security restructuring and pedophilia as political issues. Nevertheless, when Senator Edward Kennedy and other leading Democrats peddle the line that there is no crisis in Social Security, younger Americans tend to regard them as using the same tactics as the NAMBLA leader in South Park. Full frontal BS.
Social Security reform, connected as it is to the personal future and security of today's young adults, is the ideal issue to convince them that the GOP is the party of no BS, while the Democrats approach is the opposite.
Liberals may be able to withstand exile from the corridors of power, they may even draw strength from their intense feelings of alienation, and contribute massive amounts of money to groups like MoveOn.org. But their characteristic and dominant response to adversity is attitude — derision of Republicans. It is their last strategic redoubt, the place to which they retreat to salvage their own threatened sense of self—worthiness. Shorn of the last solace, they become irrational, incoherent, and self—destructive. Very easy targets.
As discussion of Social Security reform continues, look for President Bush and his allies to press this advantage further. Straight talk leads straight to political victory. The left has no concept of what awaits.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.