January 23, 2005


Semantics Shape Social Security Debate: Democrats Assail 'Crisis' While GOP Gives 'Privatization' a 'Personal' Twist (Mike Allen, January 23, 2005, Washington Post)

President Bush is trying to keep the word "private" from going public.

As the two parties brace for the coming debate over restructuring Social Security, polls and focus groups for both sides have shown that voters -- especially older ones, who vote in disproportionately heavy numbers -- distrust any change that has the word "private" attached to it.

The White House has a logical idea: Don't use the word. This is difficult because, after all, they would be "private" accounts, and Bush's plan would "partially privatize" Social Security.

So Bush and his supporters have started using "personal accounts" instead of "private accounts" to refer to his plan to let younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds. Republican officials have begun calling journalists to complain about references to "private accounts," even though Bush called them that three times in a speech last fall.

"Semantics are very important," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.)said last week when a reporter asked about "private" accounts. "They're personal accounts, not private accounts. No one is advocating privatizing Social Security."

"Don't dismiss the use of a word," Thomas added. "The use of a word is critical in making law."

Democrats have their own linguistic problem: They want to banish the term "crisis." Democratic Party leaders are urging members to discuss future Social Security shortfalls as a "challenge" rather than a crisis, and assert that Bush is trying to manufacture a crisis to justify making changes that many Democrats say are unnecessary. The White House has fired back with a transcript showing that President Bill Clinton, during a Georgetown University address in 1998, spoke of "the looming fiscal crisis in Social Security."

Funny thing about the Democrats' strategy on this issue--their entire pitch is to those Americans who won't be around in a few years. They stand to win a battle only to get annihilated in the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 2:22 PM

Well, considering that the operative words here should actually be stuff like "liberty" and "unconstitutional," neither "private," "personal," "crisis" or "challenge" really has a place in the discussion.

But, then, Americans seem to have grown an aversion to "liberty" and the Constitution, so ... whatever.

Posted by: Semolina at January 23, 2005 2:39 PM

"... neither ... NOR ..."


Posted by: Semolina at January 23, 2005 2:42 PM