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Reacting To AARP

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My “Hats Off To AARP” column in the Jan. 10/17 issue hit a nerve with some of our readers. In that piece I congratulated AARP for taking the offensive against plans to privatize Social Security and took the White House to task for crisis-mongering a situation that, I believe, does not warrant it.

I have found that any time I criticize President Bush it sounds off some kind of alarm bell that mobilizes the legions of his supporters in this industry. Usually, they pay attention to nothing else in the column except what I have said about the President. Their epithets are hurled with a ferocity that would do justice to Zeus and his fabled thunderbolts.

Most common of these epithets, of course, is the “L” word, which is tossed at me with the e-mail equivalent of a sneer and barely contained outrage. But I have to tell you that this leopard aint changing his spots, so I dont run for cover when someone calls me a liberal.

(In fact, it might surprise these bolt throwers to know that there is a sizable segment in this business that also would not run from being called liberal. They also write and offer support, but usually only after Ive printed samples of the excoriations Ive received.)

Some outraged readers do move past the “L” word, however. So, when a reader writes, “What appears in the Editors Edge might be errantly labeled bodacious to some; to others it more aptly appears odious left-wing drivel,” he has piqued my interest and hooked me into reading more of his abuse.

And all of a sudden we are in the middle of Apocalypse Now: “Not a Geiger counter, but a hatred counter is required to tally false blasts concomitant with salvos that appear to be of self piety (or self pity; but does anyone see a difference?) Perhaps mass destruction of liberal, crass spewings will rid us of feckless ideologues and brash, entitlement beggars.”

Now, thats rhetoric I can sink my teeth into, even if it appears that I am one of those feckless ideologues whose crass spewings would benefit from mass destruction. It also makes me wonder if those on the other side of the political divide (as this reader seems to be) see themselves as feckful?

In fact so intrigued was I by the use of the word feckless, that I went to the dictionary to see what the heck feck is. Feck, as it turns out, is from the Scottish feck, which is aphetic for effect. (Aphetic describes the loss of a short unaccented vowel at the beginning of a word.)

Thus one can turn rhetorical abuse into an occasion for learning more about our language, something for which I am always grateful.

Now, I am far from the only person to question whether Social Security is indeed in crisis as the President insists. For instance, a story in Time magazine (hardly an anti-Bush bastion, as it selected him as Person of the Year) has the headline “Is There Really A Crisis?” and a subhead that says, “Social Security is a long way from bankrupt, despite the Presidents assertions.”

The article quotes the President as telling some students that “the system will be bankrupt by the year 2040.” Then it goes on to say: “That sounds pretty scaryexcept that its not true.Whats more, even if you take the President at his wordthat a crisis and bankruptcy are fast approachingthe introduction of private accounts does nothing to slow that process. On the contrary, it makes things worse, by diverting payroll taxes from current retiree benefits and bringing the end of surpluses that much closer.”

I think the Social Security debate will be with us for a while and this wont be the last column I do about it. You know where I stand, but if you do feel that there is indeed a crisis, let me know why so we can start a dialogue. Who knows what may happen when fecks are joined across the political spectrum?

Steve Piontek


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, January 20, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.