Social Security is a slightly different matter, though Democrats are chary of acknowledging that. Its role in American life has changed substantially since 1935. It was designed as an income supplement, not a pension, though today that difference has been lost. During the salad years, the country was happy to ignore that distinction. Now, the notion that Social Security is an entitlement in any way other than in the legal sense needs a full debate.
The country needs to recognize that if it were permissible to enhance these entitlements, as they have been with cost-of-living adjustments, then it’s also possible to reduce them.
— Has our political rhetoric so perverted our political system that our words get in the way?
We have just completed a presidential campaign in which the Democrat employed the most virulent class-warfare language of any major-party candidate at least since Franklin Roosevelt. Obama partisans inevitably will argue that the high pitch of the president was promoted by a shocking, dangerous level of income inequality in the country. Perhaps so.
But the Republicans — especially the new-style, middle-class conservatives, who have nothing in common with the malefactors of great wealth that Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, deplored in 1907 — aren’t the economic royalists that FDR, a Democrat, deplored 29 years later. Obama needs to sound like a president looking for a solution to a crisis, not a candidate seeking votes.
Obama was not alone in excess. His opponents described him as a European social democrat if not an outright socialist, which would be news to real socialists, who would instantly dismiss Obama as a feckless, spineless moderate with a hopelessly innocuous petit-bourgeois outlook.
So, first step: We need to clean up the language before we can clean up the economic mess. Then tackle these questions.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette.