Among all those protesters wandering New York streets as the Republican National Convention gets under way, at least one ought to be pleading for action on the most politically ignored serious problem in the United States today: the coming crisis of Social Security and Medicare.
The Republicans this week will put great emphasis on the war on terrorism, since nothing poses more of a threat to our American civilization than the possibility of calamitous visits by terrorists. Has President Bush's leadership been adequate? The speakers will repeatedly say it has been better than that. And there will be the intimation that John Kerry's past antiwar stances can be seen as prologue to a perilous future.
But there is more than one issue in this country, and few on the domestic side rank higher than Social Security and Medicare — though you would not know it by looking at our politics. The Democrats hid from the issue of running out of money for these programs in their convention. Congress has been hiding from it for years. Bill Clinton hid from it for eight years and George W. Bush has hidden from it so far.
The hiding needs to stop, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said last week. He spoke the obvious truth when he said that there appears to be no way that the federal government can fulfill benefit promises to retiring baby boomers. If adjustments are postponed until the last moment, people will be caught unawares in situations that could be painful. You can't fix the problem just with payroll tax hikes, he said, and it's easy to see why not: The increased cost of employees would mean unemployment and a slowdown of growth. An answer, he said, is to reduce some benefits for future recipients, and to do it soon to allow those recipients time to plan.
For sure, no one at the Republican convention will announce a proposal to cut benefits. What could happen, however, is an acknowledgment of the huge problem that awaits the country and a move toward private retirement accounts for Social Security. That would help to reduce the program's cost and signal the seriousness the problem deserves.
Any protesters interested in doing a little prodding?