Fixing Social Security: The Rubes vs The Rubios

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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When Texas Governor Rick Perry stood by his assertion that social security is a “Ponzi scheme,” you just knew the press would latch onto it as the big moment of the debate. They did.

Perry, of course, was fundamentally correct — no serious person can disagree with the indisputable mathematical fact that, unless changes are made for younger workers, the program will go bankrupt.

On the other hand, was calling Social Security a “monstrous lie” really the best way to begin a serious debate about reforming the entitlement program?

In fairness, Perry was defending something he wrote in a book prior to running for president. But this was also just the latest example of how Republicans have rhetorically overstepped in talking about this highly sensitive issue.

There is a winning way for conservatives to talk about the issue — and Marco Rubio seems to have cracked the code.

It basically goes like this: a). Stress that no changes will be made for those who are on (or about to go on) the program, b). stress that the program will become insolvent unless it is fixed, and  c). communicate these points in a rhetorical manner that appeals to average Americans (including those who do not vote in Republican primaries or live in the deep south).

Rubio’s recent speech at the Reagan Library was essentially a case study in how to effectively address the issue. For example, he said, “… I believe in America’s retirement programs,” adding, “But I recognize that these programs as they are currently structured are not sustainable for future generations. And so we must embrace public policy changes to these programs.”

He then personalized the situation, explaining: “My mother just – well she gets mad when I say this. She is in her eighth decade of life and she is on both of these programs. I can’t ask my mom to go out and get another job. She paid into the system. But the truth is that Social Security and Medicare, as important as they are, cannot look for me how they look for her.”

If your goal is to appeal to average Americans, my guess is that moms beat Ponzi schemes every day of the week.

Entitlement reform is serious business — and it seems to me that Rubio’s rhetorical presentation is the way to persuade Americans embrace fundamental reform — before it’s too late to save the system.

Republicans should follow his rhetorical lead if they’re going to have any chance to overcome the left’s scare tactics.

Matt K. Lewis