Bush Misreads Seniors on Social Security

April 30, 2005 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel |

There's no denying it any longer. I've turned 65. I've enrolled in Medicare. I'll apply shortly for Social Security.

I'm a senior.

Like many, I suppose, I began the journey to senior status gradually. One milestone was the time a kid asked me to throw him a ball that had gotten away from him, and called me "sir."

At 50, I got an invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons. Then I twice became a grandfather. At 62, I received reduced prices at movie theaters, which I gladly accepted.

As I enter this strange new status, I've been unusually aware of the recognition now accorded the older generation.

We are a major marketing demographic. We are suddenly sought after as employees who bring skills to the job, are easy to train and more reliable than our younger counterparts. We are the last newspaper readers in America and vote in disproportionately large numbers.

I've also been listening to politicians talking to me — to us. And I don't like what I'm hearing. In particular, I was struck by reports that President Bush is going around the country assuring "us" that our Social Security benefits will not be affected by Republicans' proposals to privatize the system.

No doubt, there are some of us -- I was going to write "many older people," but I've got to practice this new identity -- who are genuinely concerned about losing benefits. But an anxious focus on our own well-being can't only be what we older people are about.

I'm concerned about Social Security not because I'm worried about my benefits. I'm worried that a safety net for older people in need won't be there when my children, now in their 30s, and my grandchildren, can no longer work.

When the president focuses on how seniors don't have to worry about their own benefits, it feels insulting. When did we become the generation only worried about our own needs?

We and those coming of age right behind us were the ones who, in many different ways, fought for civil rights. Later, we worked to secure women's rights and an end to male privilege. We certainly didn't do those things only for ourselves.

To be sure, these struggles were joined by people of every age, and they continue. But surely they were not fought by people who would grow old only to worry that their benefits remain intact.

It makes me wonder what the president thinks our views are on the deficit he helped create with his famous tax cuts. Does he think we seniors don't care about the deficit so long as Medicare and Medicaid are defended? That's a very narrow reading of seniors.

The seniors I want to join are those who I've seen at my local library, who swim and exercise at the local recreation center and who enjoy the parks in and around Washington. I hope and trust there are many seniors who want to live in their communities, not shut up in recreation camps for the elderly. These are people who will support their local public services and not simply focus attention on "their" benefits.

Next on my list are thoughts about the environment and global warming. Will the president go to senior centers and reassure us old folks not to worry because sea levels won't rise appreciably during our lifetimes?

Seniors support environmental causes not because we want to protect the Earth for ourselves, but to leave it in good shape for generations to come.

I'd like to see political leaders approach us as something other than self-involved worriers. That's not what our role should be, and I suspect that's not what us seniors want it to be.

Our world is changing rapidly. Where we live, farms are giving way to sprawl. Where my grandchildren live, mature forests are threatened by new malls.

I sense a fundamental sadness in my generation over these developments. It's not simply regret over change as such, although no doubt there's some of that. Maybe the sadness comes from recognizing that we are running out of time to help make it so.

We lived through difficult times. Like many before us, we have a deep appreciation of the promise of this country.

Don't infantilize us with promises that our narrow interests are secure! Talk to us instead about how the country will be a blessing among nations and, at home, how broadly its advantages will be shared.

Michael Lipsky is senior program director at Demos, a public policy organization in New York. Lipsky lives in Northern Virginia.

 

 

Our world is changing rapidly. Where we live, farms are giving way to sprawl. Where my grandchildren live, mature forests are threatened by new malls.

I sense a fundamental sadness in my generation over these developments. It's not simply regret over change as such, although no doubt there's some of that. Maybe the sadness comes from recognizing that we are running out of time to help make it so.