Exploiting a Misconception

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, May 20, 2005; 11:54 AM

President Bush's meticulously stage-managed presentations on Social Security have slowly shifted into a new phase, in which White House aides find misinformed young people to share the stage with the president and assert that Social Security won't be there at all when they retire.

And rather than correcting them on their misconception -- government estimates, after all, say that after 2041 Social Security will still be able to pay at least three-quarters of currently promised benefits without any changes -- Bush congratulates them on their perspicacity.

Bush isn't saying much new at these events, and attention in Washington is currently focused elsewhere.

But as he steadily pivots the focal point of his events from older people to younger, he is increasingly using hand-picked people under 30 as props in a scare campaign.

He's still telling seniors not to listen to all those unspecified people trying to frighten them by saying their benefits are about to be cut.

But he himself is forcefully asserting to young people that for them, when it comes to Social Security, the sky is falling.

Take a look at the transcript of Bush's event yesterday in Milwaukee and in particular his exchanges with the panelists winnowed by the White House from a pool of contestants selected by the local chamber of commerce.

Bobby Kraft, 27, who is president of a local printing and mailing company, told Bush: "Before I got into printing I did have a short stint as an investment advisor. And the first thing I learned getting into the industry and studying all the financial books is that don't count on Social Security to be there. We . . . teach our employees that they need to take advantage of the 401(k) we put in place for them because of the fact, the way the Social Security system is set up, we cannot count on that to be here.

Bush: "Yes, let me stop you. Young guy sitting here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in front of the President -- don't count on Social Security to be there. A lot of people feeling that way here in America. What I'm telling you is, if we can get the United States Congress to listen to you, we can put a plan in place to make sure Social Security is there. (Applause.)"

Same thing happened a bit later, when Bush spoke to 22-year-old Concordia University senior Christy Paavola.

Bush: "You got any thoughts about Social Security?"

Paavola: "Yes, I don't think it's going to be there when I retire, which is really scary."


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