The Debates

Rep. Bachmann's standing in the polls has eroded sharply since Gov. Perry entered the race. She is trying to position herself against Gov. Perry chiefly on two fronts, and she is right about one of them and wrong about the other. She is wrong to try to undercut him with seniors by talking up Social Security.
"Bernie Madoff deals with Ponzi schemes, not the grandparents of America," says a Bachmann adviser. "Clearly she feels differently about the value of Social Security than Gov. Perry does. She believes Social Security needs to be saved, that it's an important safety net for Americans who have paid into it all their lives."
The chief difference between a Ponzi scheme and Social Security is that Ponzi couldn't force you to pay into it. The government is doing in the open what Ponzi had to do in secret, because they have the power to do it.

What is absolutely true, both for Social Security and Ponzi schemes, is that someone is going to get left holding the bag. We always hear that it should not be seniors, but really, it probably should be. The young are poorer than the old, for one thing. For another, it is the old who have sat by and let Congress get away with spending up the Social Security "trust fund" for a generation. The parents of the Baby Boomers were not fools, and neither were the Boomers themselves. Everyone knew what was happening, and they let Congress do it anyway.

It's a fine thing to tell a 20-something or a 30-something that they shall have to pay massive taxes their whole lives to support the retiring Baby Boomers and their parents, knowing they shall receive nothing when (if!) they are able to retire. It's even finer to tell them that when it is those same Baby Boomers and their parents who controlled the political system during the period of time when sound financial planning should have been made. Morally, the old are the ones most responsible for the current mess, and if anyone is to bear the weight of it, it should be them and not the young.

Social Security should be replaced with a system of poverty relief for those elderly who really are poor. We could afford to pay even more generous benefits for those who really cannot otherwise survive, if we gave up the idea of paying everyone something simply because they happen to be alive (and older than 65). While this would mean belt-tightening for middle-class retirees, and those soon to retire, it would be better than enslaving the young, reducing their lifetime earnings substantially in exchange for no possibility of any real support in their own age.

On this point, then, Gov. Perry is quite right, and Rep. Bachmann wrong.

She is right here:

The toughest attack on Rick Perry came not from Mitt Romney on Social Security, but from Michele Bachmann on his executive order requiring girls to be inoculated against the HPV virus. Bachmann got specific in charging Perry with "crony capitalism" because his former chief of staff was a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company that made the vaccine. Perry manfully explained that parents could opt out of the immunizations, but Bachmann's charge packed an emotional and intellectual punch.
It is not just the "crony capitalism" piece that is right, although that is a strong point against Gov. Perry, and also Mr. Romney, the other frontrunner -- unless Rep. Bachmann pulls off an upset and wins the nomination, we shall have some flavor of crony-ist in the White House in 2013 (as President Obama is certainly one also).

She is also right, though, to defend the primacy of the family as a social unit. Another point that John Locke was wrong about is his assertion that we are naturally individuals. This is certainly not true: even on his chosen examples, it is clear that the family and not the individual is the unit that pre-exists the state. Recognizing the biological family's natural authority -- and the duty we owe both to our parents and our children -- would be of great benefit to our nation. A nation that believed in the fundamental role of the family would be less dependent on programs like Social Security, for one thing: for another, we would not be prone to the error of thinking of marriage as a kind of business partnership between the two married persons, which gives rise to easy divorce and other ills. We will be a healthier people when we return to recognizing it as a generational kinship bond that creates duties both to the previous generation and the one that is, hopefully, to follow from the union.


Apparently Rep. Bachmann made some follow-up comments today that are factually wrong. The belief that vaccines cause autism and other forms of mental handicaps is a common one, but my understanding from having looked into the issue is that the accusations are not supported. It will be important to see how she handles the correction.


The comments from the old post were good; I'm sorry they seem to have been lost. Joe raised a point about the importance of vaccinations in cases of epidemics which I agree with entirely. I think it is important for the family's natural authority to be a recognized force against which we balance the power of the state, just as the States were meant under the original Constitutional understanding to have independent power to balance the Federal government, and just as the legislature and the executive check and balance each other. Like the writ of habeas corpus, which cannot be set aside except in certain defined emergencies, the authority of the family should be a foundational feature of normal life. Setting it aside should be done only in cases where an exceptional interest requires it, as invasion might justify setting aside the writ of habeas corpus. The prevention of epidemics is surely on that scale.

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