George Will

WASHINGTON -- Three years before Rep. Wilbur Mills, the Arkansas Democrat who then chaired the Ways and Means Committee, had his fling with a stripper named Fanne Foxe, aka "The Argentine Firecracker" (Mills joined her on stage at Boston's exquisitely named Pilgrim Theater, which specialized in what Time magazine primly called "ecdysiast exhibitions"; this was after he had a fracas with Ms. Foxe that provoked her to jump into Washington's Tidal Basin across from the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, who really believed that democracies could behave rationally), he decided seek the Democrats' 1972 presidential nomination. So in an almost admirably straightforward attempt to buy the votes of the elderly, he successfully championed an automatic COLA -- cost of living adjustment -- for Social Security.

His campaign fizzled but his achievement endures, and his place in liberalism's pantheon is secure. His COLA, which began in 1975, is the entitlement that proves that the entitlement system, like the universe, will expand until, perhaps like the universe, it collapses in on itself.

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Barack Obama has now established Mills' Social Security COLA as the capstone to the architecture of the entitlement culture that is modern liberalism's crowning achievement: It is an entitlement to which you are entitled even when you are not entitled to it. Obama says 57 million Americans -- every Social Security beneficiary and some other recipients of federal entitlements -- are entitled to $250 apiece to assuage the disappointment of having not been injured by inflation. Because the cost of living declined 4 percent last year, the 57 million are not entitled to the actual COLA, but they evidently are going to be declared entitled to monetary consolation for the misfortune of not experiencing misfortune.

This is the second continent-wide shower of $250 checks. The first came from the $787 billion stimulus package enacted in February. There will not be another such shower, until the next one.

In January, retirees received a 5.8 percent COLA, the largest since 1982, primarily because of a surge in energy prices, which since then have declined. Furthermore, after lifetimes of accumulation, Americans over 60 have the highest net worth of any age cohort. So why the special solicitude for them during an economic downturn that has afflicted almost everyone?


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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