I have some advice for the real small-c conservatives and reactionaries in the debate over Social Security reform: Franklin Roosevelt is dead. Get over it. It seems every time I turn on the TV or the radio, I hear some opponent of reform whining that we're tinkering with FDR's "legacy." Who gives a rat's patoot?
Let's start with what should be obvious: If the current social security system is a good deal, then it's a good deal. Period. If it's a bad deal for 300 million Americans, then it's a bad deal. Only a moron of ground-shaking proportions would argue that we should screw millions of low- and middle-income (or even, yes, rich) Americans out of a better retirement - and their own money! - out of respect to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's memory. What politician in his right mind would say, "Sure there's a better way, but we owe it to FDR to stick with this junk." I'm no fan of Henry Ford, but even if I thought he was the bomb, I can't imagine saying we owe it to Henry to keep driving Model Ts.
Now, almost no one rests their whole argument on this legacy thing, but even bringing it up as part of a larger case gives it too much weight. Remember, we're talking about trillions of dollars over the years. These dollars should have moral weight, particularly for liberals, who are constantly looking for new things to spend money on. If loyalty to FDR's memory costs us even a few billion dollars a year, that's a few billion dollars liberals might otherwise be able to spend on health care, school lunches or scholarships.
This notion, that Social Security is some kind of secular tithe to the false god of FDR, is intellectually and morally offensive. It is dishonest.
Of course, liberal mythology about the New Deal legend is, uh, legendary. Still, it's worth noting that the New Deal surely prolonged the Depression and did far less for poverty than the textbooks claim. The first point is not even particularly controversial. The second is debatable. But what isn't in dispute among scholars is that it was World War II, not the New Deal, that served to pull America out of its economic doldrums.
But in all the propaganda about FDR, a more salient point has been conveniently lost. It would be entirely in keeping with FDR's legacy to rip apart the Social Security system if there was even a chance that it could be improved. The overarching theme of FDR's entire governing philosophy, constantly touted by virtually his entire Brain Trust, was "experimentalism."