FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: ACCOUNT

ALERT - The following word is being used by the Bush White House in their latest media gimmick to deceive Americans about Social Security: account Do not use this word to describe Social Security. The Bush White House is using...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 01/12/2005

ALERT - The following word is being used by the Bush White House in their latest media gimmick to deceive Americans about Social Security:

account

Do not use this word to describe Social Security. The Bush White House is using this word with one purpose: to convince Americans that Social Security should be dismantled.

TO DISCREDIT BUSH - Describe his latest public appearance as a "media gimmick" "publicity hoax" or "million-dollar PR stunt."

USE BETTER WORDS - To explain how Americans really understand Social Security use these words:

fair, protect, healthy

"Social Security is healthy and successful." "Americans who hard and play buy the rules deserve a retirement protected by their government."

WARNING - This latest Bush gimmick pushes the idea that all Americans, and particularly young Americans, are greedy. This is not true. Americans believe in fairness and responsibility.

Frameshop is open...

The Million Dollar PR Man
The keywords in this effort are not just "account," it's the idea of a "personal account." This idea has been cooked up by Bush's million-dollar PR man, a guy named Frank Luntz. Using secret focus groups and covert research methods, Frank Luntz has figured out that Americans want their retirement money to be protected. Astonishingly, rather than coming up with a way to make Americans feel safe about their retirement, Frank Luntz used his PR techniques to find those words that make Americans feel that their retirement money is most threatened.

That's right. The President paid a PR firm to help him find those keywords that--when repeated over and over again in the media--make Americans the most worried about their retirement.

According to Luntz, the key to making Americans feel most insecure about their retirement is to describe Social Security as being in "crisis," to talk about it as an "account" that is slowly dwindling, and to propose dismantling Social Security in favor of "personal retirement accounts." All these words are being used by the President.

Why do these words make Americans panic? Well, they make us panic because they advance a deceptive frame that defines social security as a big pile of money that's dwindling at the hands of government mismanagement--a big pile of cash being scattered to the winds by the inevitable march of the aging US population. The solution in the retirement horror story purchased from Frank Luntz by George Bush is to appeal to American greed, to convince thatm that the only way to retire rich is to grab their share of the pile of Social Security cash and stick it in the stock market.

The Bush Social Security Fear Machine
Let's take a quick look at Bush's Social Security story in action. The following is a quote from Bush's remarks at a discussion about Social Security held January 11, 2005 at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium, Washington, DC. Just to make sure I have the "right" version of Bush's remarks, this quote comes directly from The White House press release:

The Social Security system is not a personal savings account. The Social Security system is not an account where money is earned. The Social Security system is an account where money comes out to pay for retirees and is put in the system by people who are working. And that's changed. More and more retirees have taken out money relative to the number of people putting money in. In the '50s, there were 16 workers for every beneficiary. So the system was in pretty good shape. Today, there's three workers for every beneficiary. Relatively quickly, there's going to be two workers for every beneficiary. And that's a problem. And that's a problem because in the year 2018, in order to take care of baby boomers like me and -- (laughter) -- some others I see out there -- (laughter) -- the money going out is going to exceed the money coming in.

Notice how Bush starts out by describing what kind of "account" Social Security is not. This is pretty deft rhetorical trick for someone who's not supposed to be good at public speaking. It seems like Bush was prepped pretty well for this publicity stunt. The key phrase is this: "The Social Security system is an account." That's it--it's been defined as an account where more money's going "out" than "in." If any American listening happens to have a checking or savings account (ehem!), then they would immediately understand that pretty soon the Social Security "account" is going to be empty. Which is bad. But just in case anyone didn't catch that, the President makes sure to dangle some images of retirement horror before us:

That's not a good thing. It means that you're either going to have to raise the taxes of people, or reduce the benefits. And the longer you wait, the more severe the pain is going to be to fulfill the promise for a younger generation of workers coming up. As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt.

No, Martha, an empty Social Security "account" is not "a good thing." But take a quick look back at that last paragraph. I wonder how many hours President Bush spent with his million-dollar PR script from Frank Luntz before he memorized those lines? Here are all the bad words: "raise taxes" (bad!) "reduce benefits" (ouch!) "severe pain" (yikes!) "bankrupt" (oiy!) and "bankrupt" (oof!).

Oh, my. Where do I sign to avoid all this pain and bankruptcy!! Just gimme my pile of dough from the account and let me buy Enron stock!

Why Does Bush Push This Line?
Bush advances this logic because he wants to dismantle Social Security. In his view, Social Security is immoral because it puts government in between individuals and the market place. The only truly just world, in Bush's view, is a world where there are absolutely no controls placed on the markets. In that just world, the people who do well in the market place are the people who deserve secure and protected retirements. People who don't do well in the markets, well, there's something wrong with them in Bush's view.

Bush wants a government that has no programs to protect people from the market place. Bush wants all programs dismantled, so he's starting with Social Security. And he's run up a pretty big deficit to put pressure on the system.

The deficit, you see, is a problem in Bush's mind. It's an achievement. It's an achievement because it can be used to put pressure on all the programs that Bush wants to dismantle. Once he had that deficit, he could put that million-dollar PR campaign to use.

Unfortunately, President Bush's view is wrong and his efforts must be stopped. In fact, Social Security is one of the most successful programs of all time. It is a healthy system and can be kept that way through minor increases in the tax salary cap, responsible federal spending, and investments in the economy.

President Bush's plan would cost trillions of dollars, send tens of millions of senior citizens--nest egg in hand--into the unregulated stock markets, and it's all based on accounting forecasts that even Republicans reject.

The Solution
The solution is to talk about social security as what it really is: a system to protect Americans from having to rely on the risks of the open markets in retirement, and a safety net for those Americans who fall victim to terrible loss that leaves them without other options.

Americans who work hard and play by the rules deserve a retirement protected from the risks of the open markets.

Social Security is a fair system well-worth the investment to keep it up and running.

If he dismantles Social Security, President Bush will weaken this entire country.

By investing in Social Security, we invest in the welfare of this nation's future.

The key to taking back control of this debate is to focus attention on the core American values of "fairness" and "responsibility."

Based on the value of fairness and responsibility, Americans have worked together on the issue of retirement. Social Security is the policy solution based on that effort.

President Bush's scheme is based on greed, and encourages Americans to think and do for themselves at the risk of all others. The "personal retirement account" is the Bush policy based on that disturbing vision of America.

Fairness and responsibility are the heart of this country.

Now let's stop using Bush's words and take back this debate.

© Jeffrey Feldman 2005, Frameshop

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