The Right’s Own Welfare State


September 25, 2006


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Why are right wing writers so dismissive of social security and other means of social support?  Could more than ideology be involved – in particular, that many of them have their own private welfare system that insulates them from the rigors of the market they preach for the rest of us?  That possibility has been on my mind since the day in New York that I ran into an acquaintance who recently had been fired from his job at a rightward magazine.  I commiserated and asked what he would do next.

Oh, he said, he was going to talk with Bill Buckley and get money to write a book.  He seemed totally unconcerned – and in New York where rents are not cheap.  That contrasted with my own experience a few months later, when the magazine I worked for went under, and I had to go on unemployment, to my great discomfort and yes, shame. The champion of the market was coddled in a risk-free cocoon, while someone such as myself had to take the lumps.

There are so many examples of this: the golden parachutes that reward top executives for failure; the taxpayer-financed sports stadiums that enable a market fundamentalist such as George Bush to parlay a six-figure sweetheart investment in a baseball team into an eight-figure gain; and on and on.  Just last week the Wall Street Journal ran a story about a corporation – Cablevision Systems – that awarded stock options to a vice president after he died.

Now we know.  Not only should there be no estate tax.  We should heap more riches onto the tombs of the wealthy, after they pass along.  (In practice that means more for their trust fund kids of course.)  The so-called “takings” movement is part of this new politics of entitlement.  People of this mind think themselves entitled to compensation when an action of government restricts their use of their property, even if it was actions of government – through the building of roads, schools and the rest – that created that “taken” value in the first place.

Now there’s this.  I learn from Tom Edsall’s new book, “Building Red America” (via an excellent review in the current Washington Monthly) that Karl Rove has been pushing corporations to hire Republican former staffers and politicians, thus assuring them a soft and lucrative landing after their days of legislative hustling for those corporations are done. “We can now go to students at Harvard,” said Rove, “and say ‘There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.’”

So they are free to devote themselves to demolishing social security without concern that they themselves might need these one day.  Just as they are free to start wars that they themselves and their own kids never will have to fight.   It is supposed to be a principle of conservative thought that you take personal responsibility for the impacts of your own actions.  Or as they say at Microsoft, “Eat your own dogfood.”

Maybe it’s not dog food. I’m not sure.  But either way, how about it folks?  If “secure retirement plans” are good for you, how about the rest of us?