Ted Nugent, the "Motor City Madman" of '70s hard rock, has a plan to fix Social Security: eliminate it. And make workers under 45 pay to wind it up. With enemies like this, does Social Security even need friends?
At this point in his demented career, The Nuge -- Tedly, Uncle Ted, what have you -- is an American institution, a living, breathing parody of contemporary rugged individualism that Glenn Beck and the Tea Party would have to invent if he wasn't already roaming the Upper Midwest.
As occasional readers of our right-wing op-ed pages know, he's also a political scientist of sorts. This month, he's challenging the Republican Party to put its money where its mouth is on Social Security. Which, if you care about the program and want to preserve it, should be just fine. Although I rarely offer advice, I would counsel you to do everything possible to encourage the Great Gonzo as he lays siege to the citadel of the right, demanding to know why they aren't getting serious.
No coward, Nugent took on the most popular social program in American history in a Washington Times column on February 4. He proposed a five-point plan to end what he says is a "bloated, broke and busted" disaster. Naturally, the piece partakes fully of the pseudo-Nietzschean, "no pain no gain" philosophy he's been purveying ever since he was the garage-rockin' frontman of the Amboy Dukes in the late '60s.
We must have the guts and national resolve to remove the crushing tax burden of this Ponzi scheme from the backs of future Americans.... Eliminating Social Security isn't our Sputnik moment. It's our sink-the-Bismarck moment.
How would he do it?
First, pass a law to "Keep the Jesse James-like hands of Congress off the dollars collected from Social Security." Sounds like Al Gore's "lockbox," if I didn't know better.
Second, "Take the cap off of the Social Security tax." Interestingly, that's just what Social Security's supporters have been advocating for years. "Yes, that will be a tax increase for some Americans," says Nugent.
He could have stopped there, and eliminated almost the entire funding problem for Social Security for the next 75 years with the full support of many progressives. But Step three veers away from this mildly progressive course.
Benefits must be means-tested. "This will be a huge sacrifice," writes the aging icon who titled his 2008 tour, "Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead." But, "Tough times require tough people who are willing to make sacrifices for the future good of the nation."
Steps four and five are where Nugent gets serious. "We must raise the retirement now." Not gradually, over several decades, as even quite brutal proposals like the Bowles-Simpson plan recommend. Now. Is that a hint of glee in Nugent's eye as he advises, "Shovel on more personal pain and sacrifice"?
That brings us to the kicker:
People in the work force will be required to continue to pay into Social Security in order to pay for the masses of baby boomers retiring, but the people younger than 45 will not receive Social Security.
That's it: no quid pro quo, no inducements, no sweeteners. Just pay up. What will those under-45s do instead? Not to worry, says Ted, who turned 62 in December and thus can choose to start collecting early retirement benefits well before his master plan is executed. Younger workers will still have their 401(k)s.
The GOP should be telling young Americans that it is their responsibility to save and invest for their retirement and if they start saving today, they will amass a fortune over their careers.
A pipe dream, perhaps, but remember, Nugent's roots go back to the psychedelic '60s. "We can do it. Let's sink the Bismarck. What do you say, GOP?"
Indeed. It's rare for a political player in the U.S. to lay out the consequences of their positions as starkly as Ted Nugent. The fundamental problem with ending Social Security for younger workers has always been the transition costs. You can cancel their benefits. But unless you want to immediately impoverish current retirees, the next generations will be condemned to pay the full cost of not one but two retirements: their parents', and their own.
That only makes sense to The Nuge, who applies the same "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" philosophy to politics as he does to backwoods bow-hunting. And in a sense, he's only making explicit what's at the core of Republican thinking about Social Security and many other things. It's about how America's had it too easy. It's about pain. It's about sacrifice. America will be better off for it.
What say you, GOP? Are you going to continue soft-pedaling this philosophy by insisting that you only want to "save" Social Security for future generations? Or are you going to give it to us straight? Are you for real? Or just a bunch of Weekend Warriors?