I am a child of the Depression. I was marked and shaped by
that fact, and my social conscience developed from it, a constant reminder
of the great progress that came from those dark days and the exciting,
creative responses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his followers.
We – my widowed father, my baby sister and I – lived with my my maternal
grandmother in a small mid-western town, on a transcontinental rail line,
amid lush farmlands. Even after my father remarried, my sister and I spent a
great deal of time with my grandmother. A somewhat older cousin lived with
her full time.
I do not know how my grandmother managed. There were certainly no government
programs to help her: no general assistance, no Aid to Dependent Children,
no Social Security. I can only assume that my father and her large family of
grown children did what they could to support her.
I also know that there was a steady stream of unemployed, homeless, hopeless
men, knocking on the back door of the modest frame house in which we lived,
hat in hand, embarrassed at asking for help. None of them went away
There is a sculpture in the Roosevelt Memorial in our nation's capital,
depicting a line of such men, in shabby coats and ties, wearing shabby hats,
waiting patiently. I wept.
A WORLD DEVOID OF SAFETY NETS
It is important that we remember what it was like in the early part of the
20th Century. If your family was wealthy or even moderately well off, you
were fine. If you were working class, and bad luck or illness or accident
befell you, there was no safety net of any kind.
We cannot mount a coherent, effective campaign against the lies and
dissembling and outright virulent dishonesty of the Right Wing without first
understanding where they are and how they got there. No matter who we are
trying to deal with, we must first make sure what the battle really is,
understand their terms, define what they want and what the problem really
Otherwise, we waste valuable time and energy and leave the field of battle
strewn with our blood and corpses and our questions about what we did wrong,
even as they smirk and prepare another campaign in which they will again
make the rules, determine the battleground and lay out the vocabulary.
If we want to wage an effective battle with Mr. Bush over Social Security,
and we must, it behooves us to start by peeling back the onion and making
sure what it is that Mr. Bush and his friends really have in mind. The goal
is much larger and more basic than Social Security itself.
Start by reading the first 10 or 12 pages of "Don't Think of an Elephant" by
George Lakoff. You'll want to read the whole 119 pages, but the first few
pages will get you started on the analysis and the understanding we all need
if we are to get the job done.
THE NEFARIOUS, DANGEROUS GROVER NORQUIST
Then, if you don't already know about Grover Norquist, go to the Web and
read some of his credentials and "credits". He is one of the most important
political movers and shakers in the Republican Party, one of the chief
architects of the philosophy on which the Bush Administration leaders and
neocon theorists rely in developing their comprehensive goals and
And be prepared: the goals are huge and all-embracing and interlocking. So
are the strategies. They are all coordinated, all of a piece.
Briefly: as president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has stated
frequently and publicly that his goal is to turn back the clock to the year
1900, before Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressives started to develop and
implement programs to improve the lives of ordinary un-wealthy citizens.
Why do Norquist and his rightwing cohorts want to return to 1900 social
policy? Because Teddy Roosevelt's programs laid the groundwork for truly
progressive developments under Franklin Roosevelt 30 years later: child
labor laws, protection for the burgeoning labor movement, paid vacations, 40
hour weeks, unemployment insurance, banking and other financial institution
regulations, workplace safety measures, government welfare to replace
haphazard Lady Bountiful relief, and . . . Social Security!
Social Security was conceived as a universal benefit, paid for by workers
and bosses alike, so that every person could have a minimum income in old
More than that: the plan included provision for the disabled, and the widows
and dependent children left behind when the breadwinner was killed or died.
SOCIAL MURDER IN THE BATHTUB
The goal of all this undoing of social programs, insists Mr. Norquist, is to
"cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size
where we can drown it in the bathtub."
Note that Social Security is administered by the government, but it is paid
for by private citizens and their employers. It is NOT taxpayer money,
except in the sense that the people who pay it are taxpayers. It IS private
money, paid into a common pool for the specific purpose of being paid back
out to the same people who put it in. Not the same as Mr. Bush's private
accounts, but certainly paid in by private citizens as insurance premiums to
provide for their own and their fellow citizens' old age.
Again, remember the important steps we need always to keep in mind: 1. Let
us be sure we understand what Bush and his cohorts have in mind; 2. Let us
be sure we define what we mean, rather than accepting their definition; 3.
Let us be sure we set our own terms for the fight, that we all adopt those
terms and that vocabulary and that we adhere to a unified strategy. The
right-wingers are single-minded and disciplined; so must we be.
But open the book and pay careful attention to Mr. Lakoff as he lays out:
"basic principles of framing"; defines the "strict father model of the
family" that utilizes an absolutist definition of right and wrong; explains
the right-wing theory of the morality of pursuing self-interest and how
do-gooders screw up the system; explains how social programs are regarded by
the right-wingers as immoral because they make people dependent, so you must
reward people who operate in their own self-interest and prosper and punish
those who can't (or won't) be self-reliant. No such thing as the "deserving
Therefore: Norquist and his rightist co-conspirators approve of government
programs such as the military, homeland security, the courts, Treasury and
Commerce, subsidies of all kinds for businesses and corporations, and
disapprove of programs that take care of people.
REAL & FEIGNED "MORAL VALUES"
They DO believe that this is a moral stance. They believe what fits their
frame; they vote against their own self-interest when it fits their frame;
they cannot be confused by facts that do not fit their frame.
All of us are familiar with – and disdainful of - the Orwellian language
used so freely and fluently by Bush and Rove and the rest of them. We all
know how skillfully and effectively they have defined the terms and the
vocabulary and the framework when they speak their lies and dissembling --
and how unskillful and ineffective we have been in our futile attempts to
counter them. So?
We have to define the terms and make our case. In our terms. Using our
language. Carefully avoiding their language, because if we make any
reference to their terms and their language, we invoke their frame and fall
into their trap. Sound like the Kerry campaign? Well, duhhhhh.
But recognizing how organized their thinking is –- the millions of dollars
available to their think tanks with no restrictions so that they can build
their case and promote their agenda, and how all-encompassing and integrated
that agenda is -– we need to be aware of the tip-of-the-iceberg nature of
their Social Security "reform" campaign.
1. They do not want to reform Social Security. They mean to destroy it. They
want to destroy it because it is a keystone in the whole New Deal network.
It may be the most difficult piece to deal with, but it is key.
2. They reward their Wall Street friends at the same time.
3. They strike a blow at the middle class as well as the poorest among us
(think women left to bring up children alone after the husband and father
has died in Iraq or the breadwinner disabled in an industrial accident).
4. In concert with the dismantling of Social Security, other social programs
can be starved or dismantled so that lower middle class people are deprived
of a safety net. Not at all hard to do. It has already started. It will
become easier to do and can be done faster with the weakening of Social
Security. As middle-class families drop down into the poor class, more
people will become desperate and hopeless and with cuts in unemployment
programs, will become willing to take menial jobs now filled by illegal
5. Importantly, this strategy not only wages an effective war against an
increasingly large segment of our population, but takes a major step toward
solving the country's perceived illegal immigrant problem.
This is not a far-fetched conspiracy scenario. This is how our ultra-right
fellow citizens do things: Think ahead. Think strategically. Make every move
count. Coordinate every effort, every idea. It is happening. It will
continue to happen, unless we recognize how unprincipled and cunning they
are, and do a much more savvy job of analyzing what we can and must do to
reclaim the battle.
LEARNING HOW TO FIGHT
We must make the case that justice for all our people is a moral value; that
it is a moral value to make sure that all our people have adequate shelter,
adequate diets, a decent standard of living; that preserving our rivers and
forests and clean air is a moral value, along with all the other values that
we hold dear, including readily accessible medical care, the right to make
our own individual choices about our private lives. Including religion.
We must learn – relearn – how to fight. We must reclaim our principles as
We must remember the principles set forth in the Declaration of
Independence, in the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. And we
must swear allegiance to our heritage as Americans, as keepers of the faith,
as defenders of the rights of man (and woman).
And we must say loudly and clearly to those who want to abandon all that:
This is our country. You will not despoil it. You will not undo all that so
many have fought and died for. We will go forward together as free men and
free women, and once again stand as the bright shining hope of the world.
Marilyn Shaw is a retired fund-raiser, publicist and
administrator, in social work and the performing arts, living in San
Francisco and being an active volunteer. A 1944 graduate of UCLA, she is
grateful to the New Deal and Social Security.