This week has seen a wave of attacks by conservative columnists and think-tankers outraged that the call to Boost Social Security benefits is gaining traction on Capitol Hill (it’s already widely supported by Americans of all political persuasions nationwide). The shifting political tide was most recently apparent when an amendment to expand Social Security benefits was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and supported by the majority of Senate Democrats.  That Congressional support mobilized a host of anti-Social Security writers, with libertarian Ann Ryand fan Megan McArdle leading the pack, to pen feverish anti-Social Security tomes.  Each of them following the same conservative talking points portraying Social Security as welfare, seniors as “greedy geezers” and demanding benefit cuts to pay for billionaire tax cuts they consider off-limits for reform. 

NCPSSM’s Equal Time details McArdle’s Bloomberg piece:    

The Left Gets It Wrong About Social Security

Megan McArdle, Columnist

McArdle’s disdain for Social Security is sprinkled throughout her error-laden story.  Here are just a few samples (emphasis is ours):


“no one, left or right, really wants to take on our vast army of retirees…”


“progressives who are ideologically opposed to shrinking the welfare state…”


“It is supremely irrelevant whether that money flows through the “trust fund” or Uncle Sam holds an annual ceremony in which the trustees are handed one of those giant checks they present to lottery winners…”


“Social Security’s great political strength is the perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits…”


 “The only reason that the system isn’t in the red already is the net interest the government is paying itself on the bonds in the trust fund.” 



As a columnist, McArdle is paid to express her opinions.  However, as an employee of a “news organization” she should be expected to at least build her case based on facts.  As the Los Angeles Times correctly assessed, “It’s rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security in one place.”  So much so, we can’t even begin to fact-check all of it; however, we’ll address the first four quotes listed above as classic examples of how conservatives consistently choose language describing Social Security as if it’s a “welfare state” where “vast army of retirees” are lucky enough to be “handed…giant checks” like lottery winners.  After all, it’s only a “perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits.” Of course, the truth for millions of Americans who have actually worked and paid into Social Security for a lifetime (not just “perceived” that they did) does not resemble the political and verbal mythology created by conservatives like McArdle in any way. 


The claim that Social Security’s financing is actually worse than it appears because of some sort of accounting gimmick by which “the government is paying itself” shows either complete  ignorance of how the Trust Fund works or willful misrepresentation of the facts.  Simply put, the federal government pays interest on the money it borrows from American workers’ payroll tax contributions to Social Security.  That’s not the same as “paying itself.”  It’s a legal obligation we owe to all bond holders.  We also do this for the bonds in Warren Buffett and Pete Peterson’s portfolios, so why do conservatives never treat that as somehow suspect?  While defaulting on our debt to Pete Peterson or China would never be allowed (nor should it)…refusing to pay back America’s retirees is not only acceptable to conservatives but exactly the solution alleged “fiscal hawks” want Congress to adopt. 

Apparently, just one attack on the Boost Social Security movement wasn’t enough so Bloomberg posted a second piece, written by National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the very next day (followed by yet another McArdle article later that afternoon).  Sensing the panic here?

Here’s Richard Eskow’s Huffington Post analysis of Ponnuru’s version of the anti-Social Security playbook:

“…we’re taken on a wild ride that includes misperceptions about the financing of social insurance, the mischaracterization of Social Security as an anti-poverty program, and the citation of a methodologically flawed study from the American Enterprise Institute which incorrectly ascribes all sorts of economic evils – including “reducing work, saving, and even birth rates” – to Social Security.

But then, the anti-Social Security crowd has been playing by the same rules for decades: Ignore the needs and wishes of the majority, mislead the public about the fiscal facts and your opponents’ arguments, and stigmatize the elderly (a cohort which most of us will eventually join) as a morally flawed “special interest.”

Not content to let Bloomberg News have all the fun, the Washington Post’s editorial board piled on today adding yet another “cut Social Security” oped to their long list of similar screeds, claiming support of the Boost movement is just “pandering to seniors.”

“Of course, there’s nothing particularly original about the progressives’ campaign, either politically or policy-wise. Pandering to the elderly may be especially urgent for Democrats now, given that the formerly reliably blue 65-and-older set has evolved into a Republican constituency in the past decade, according to Gallup . But buying votes with Social Security promises is a hoary ploy whose master practitioner was none other than President Richard M. Nixon.”

The Post then goes on to claim there is no retirement crisis, the rich can’t afford to be taxed so much and seniors are actually doing quite well, thank you very much.  According to the Washington Post, supporting Social Security means you’re pandering to seniors (conveniently ignoring the fact that millions of children and people with disabilities of all ages also receive benefits).  But why doesn’t the Washington Post ever describe those opposed to cutting even a penny from trillions of dollars in tax expenditures for corporations as pandering to the 1%? 

Why?  Because that’s definitely not in the anti-Social Security playbook.