OK, my Corleone metaphor aside, let’s address the actual political question before us: Does Barack Obama deserve any particular credit for “getting” Osama bin Laden, or would “anyone have done what he did?”
This is actually a very important question. When deciding who should be one’s president going forward, there is no more important question than whether he would be an effective commander in chief (or in the case of the incumbent, whether he is an effective commander in chief).
Republicans, including some who should know better, are essentially saying Obama did nothing that anyone else wouldn’t have done. They are wrong. I initially thought as they did — not that I wanted to take anything away from the president, but because I thought it was true — but as I read and learned more about the decision-making process leading to the raid on Abbottabad, I changed my mind.
Last night, I inadvertently saw a few seconds of TV “news.” John McCain was saying that of course Mitt Romney would have done the same thing, or something along those lines.
For his part, outrageously, Mitt Romney has said that “even Jimmy Carter” would have ordered the SEALs into the bin Laden compound. I’m going to pause and count to 10 before proceeding after this latest reflexive GOP expression of contempt toward my man Jimmy. (And while I’m counting, I’ll just share with you this HuffPost headline, “Jimmy Carter, Seven Years as Navy Officer; Mitt Romney, 0 Years in Military, 0 Years Foreign Policy Experience.” Effin’ A.)
Well, as it happens, we have strong reason to believe that Jimmy Carter would have ordered such an operation. He actually did order a roughly comparable one. It failed, as military operations sometimes do. (The one Obama ordered could have failed, too, at a number of critical points. That’s one reason he deserves credit for having the guts to give the order.) But he ordered it. It was a big deal that he ordered it. His secretary of state resigned over it.
But would “anyone else” have done the same? There is little reason to think so. It would have been Bill Clinton’s M.O., for instance, to have flipped a couple of cruise missiles in that direction. And as we saw in Kosovo, he had a predilection for air power rather than boots on the ground. But… and this is a huge “but”… is it fair to make the assumption that the real-life Bill Clinton of the 1990s would have been as reticent, as cautious, post-9/11? It’s impossible to say.
What we do know is that in real life, there was sharp disagreement and debate in the Obama administration over how to proceed — whether to believe the assumptions based on incomplete intelligence (for doing that, George W. Bush earned the never-ending “Bush lied” canard), whether to act on them at all, whether to send in troops at all or simply bomb the compound, whether to send a joint force or a coherent Navy team, whether to notify the Pakistanis or just go in, whether to try to capture bin Laden or go in intending to kill him, whether to bring back his body or send it to sleep with the fishes.
And when I say debate within the administration, I don’t mean between what the Republicans would characterized as the Democratic sissy politicos, but among the professionals — the generals and admirals and Sec. Gates.
And at critical stages, the president and the president alone seems to have made very tough calls. And the right ones. Most importantly, he decided to send in men rather than just bombs. That way, he could make sure, he could minimize collateral damage — and the U.S. could reap an intelligence bonanza.
That took nerves not everyone would have. So many things could have gone wrong doing it this way — and nearly did. In what had to feel like a replay of Jimmy Carter’s debacle, we lost a helicopter. But having learned that lesson, we had backups.
Some Republicans would have you believe that giving Obama credit would take away somehow from the superb, almost superhuman job that the SEALs and the rest of the military and CIA team did. Nothing could be further from the truth. It stands as one of the most amazing coup de main operations of the past century. They performed as brilliantly as the Israelis did at Entebbe, for instance. But they had their roles to play, and the commander in chief had his. And all involved did their jobs remarkably well.
I refer you to two posts I wrote last year, as I came to the conclusion that Barack Obama personally deserved credit for the leadership calls that led to our killing bin Laden. Here they are:
- Changing my mind — maybe we DID get Osama because of Obama
- Again, maybe Obama DOES deserve major credit for getting bin Laden
In invite you to go back and read them, to see how I reached a conclusion very different from the line we’re hearing from Republicans now.
There is no way of knowing whether Mitt Romney would have made the same calls. I suspect that he might have erred on the side of caution, but I could be completely wrong about that. He might have acted in exactly the same manner. But what I know is that Barack Obama did — and that what he did is not just “what anyone would have done.”
Retired SecDef Robert Gates had an inside view of both decisions — Carter’s and Obama’s. He spoke about it to Naval Academy graduates last year. I recommend that speech to everyone for lessons on leadership and partisanship. http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1574
Thank you, Maggie. Let’s go ahead and quote this passage from the speech to the midshipmen”
Agreed. His “Charter Day” speech at William & Mary in February is also worth reading.
“I do believe that we are now in uncharted territory when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system. It appears that as a result of several polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing this country.”
That cuts through a lot of political garbage, coming as it does from the man I have in the past praised as “the professional.”
Let’s compare this moment to the morning of September 11, 2001 when our then commander in chief, after learning of the SECOND plane strike, sat in a classroom full of second graders looking like a deer in the headlights without a clue as to what to do. Of course that attack was successful in large part because our “leader” was kicking back in Texas and ignoring his job of protecting the country even though he was handed a briefing warning of just such an attack.
Then of course he failed to apprehend Bin Laden by devoting too few resources to the effort in Tora Bora and eventually gave up trying to catch the man, giving a dismissive comment that to the effect that “he just doesn’t think about him (Bin Laden)” much any more.
And of course we all know about the disgusting abandonment of the Afghan mission in favor of invading a completely harmless mission based on phony threats and cherry-picked “intelligence”.
Thankfully we have a real leader in the White House now instead of some half-witted, mendacious moron. Hopefully the American people will see the treasure we have in the incumbent POTUS and vote accordingly. Otherwise we risk a similar lack of leadership by the increasingly out-of-touch Mitt Romney, a man who had the gaul to insult Jimmy Carter, navy veteran. Sadly the polls are close right now so it’s not a slam dunk. Time will tell if the American public gets this right.
“Republicans, including some who should know better, are essentially saying Obama did nothing that anyone else wouldn’t have done. They are wrong.”
How can you say that Obama, who has less military experience than a Cub Scout led this mission? Where was Obama earlier in the evening? He was simply an observer in this mission. Like I said yesterday, the Navy SEALs aren’t real happy with him taking credit for what they and their fellow teammates did that evening.
@bud – What difference would it have made had Bush jumped up and ran out of the room with his hair on fire? I mean besides freaking out a classroom of 2nd graders.
“Thankfully we have a real leader in the White House now instead of some half-witted, mendacious moron.”
Did Obama AND Biden resign this morning???
And there we have it, the partisan divide in this country.
Bud can’t seem to bring himself to lift up Obama without tearing down Bush in making his point, and Steven willfully misunderstands the legitimate credit you give the man who makes the command decision, misrepresenting that as somehow taking away from the guys on the ground. Which is patently ridiculous. And if Steven thinks SEALs think that way, it makes me think he’s never met one. They are the very essence of consummate professionals. The idea of them sitting around whining that some politician doesn’t give them enough credit is far beyond belief.
I am pleased that Mr. Obama chose to send men in to kill bin Laden instead of merely bombing the place to smithereens. If he had chosen to bomb, there’s a good possiblity that the other side would have continued to claim that bin Laden was alive. The Pakistanis would have had good reason to be very angry (“collateral damage” i.e. killing a bunch of people who were not the targets of the raid). It might well have been a military and political disaster, although it almost certainly would have been “safer.”
Brad – as a cousin of a retired Navy SEAL instructor for several years out on the left-coast I think I have a pretty good idea of what type of person it takes to become a Navy SEAL if they’re anything like him.
“President Obama yesterday suggested that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have killed Osama Bin Laden if given the chance. The Romney camp along with Republicans have criticized the President for using the death of Bin Laden as a political tool. They aren’t the only ones upset though. According to a report, the Navy SEALs aren’t too happy either.
Ryan Zinke, a former Commander in the US Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, said: ‘The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call.
‘I think every president would have done the same. He is justified in saying it was his decision but the preparation, the sacrifice – it was a broader team effort.’
Mr Zinke, who is now a Republican state senator in Montana, added that MR Obama was exploiting bin Laden’s death for his re-election bid. ‘The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition. It was predictable.’”
It’s important to understand that when we go into that voting booth we have an important decision to make. With Obama we clearly have a leader who understands the risks of military missions and makes those decisions with a great deal of thought and study. It’s also important to understand how wrong we can go when choosing a commander in chief. To compare and contrast the current POTUS with the previous one is fair game in a political campaign. Bush was a failure as commander in chief and it’s not just fair game to point that out it’s imperative that we do so. This isn’t a game, it’s our security that is on the line. We just can’t make another mistake like we did with George W. And I’m affraid a Romney presidency has all the makings of that kind of mistake.
Steven, thanks for providing some support for your position. I’m glad to be corrected for thinking your assertion was baseless.
I’ll stand by my belief that SEALs in general understand the difference between their elected political bosses and professionals like themselves. Even the guy you quote seems to be implying, “Hey, that’s what politicians do — and we do what we do.”
If Cdr. Zinke thinks that anyone in the administration has tried to make anyone think it was anything but a “broader team effort,” he hasn’t paid close attention. Everything that has been released about the overall operation — from the time the first intel indications came in — totally supports the complexity of it, and all the people who had to be involved. Even the photos released by the White House of the Situation Room clearly show people who represent a large number of governmental entities. And it couldn’t possibly be any clearer than in those photos that, once the decision to go has been made, these top people could to little but sit and wait and listen in suspense as the actual shooters carried out the mission. No one could seriously get any other sort of impression.
Biden advised against the Bin Laden raid. Apparently that makes him good enough to be a heartbeat from the Presidency but disqualifies Romney.
Nothing new year. Every action taken by Obama will be calculated using a political formula designed to win electoral votes. Every speech, every photo op, every statement will be vetted by a team of paid lackeys who hide in the background.
Call me when Obama makes a difficult decision based on personal beliefs rather than political expediency.
Oh, and before Bud says “Yeah, but what about George Bush” – it goes for him as well. To become a politician, you first have to make a decision to compromise your principles when necessary.
Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
Actually I read it somewhere else and by someone else in the SEAL community. This was just one of the first sources that came up when I did a Google search.
But we all know Obama had as much to do with this as Gore did inventing the internet. I’m sure Gore said, “that sounds like a good idea” at least once when asked.
As far as the photo in the Situation Room, how many had their hands in the mission and how many were simply watching because of security clearance? Was Hillary in on the mission too?
Ryan Zinke, in addition to his SEAL service, is a Republican politician from Montana.
Bob Kerrey, another former SEAL, and Democratic Candidate for Senate in Nebraska, says that Obama deserves “a lot of credit.”
It was pretty clear that Obama re-focused attention on getting Osama from the beginning.
He said in debates with McCain, that he would go into Pakistan to get Al Qaeda, if necessary, which McCain said was naive.
Romney previously adopted the Bush line that Bin Laden was no longer that important. So its fair to assume that he would not have directed a pursuit of Bin Laden with the same zeal that Obama did.
So, yeah, Obama does get credit, for pushing this action item to the top of the agenda. That’s his job. Yes the SEALs did the work. That’s their job. The only president I know who single-handedly takes on terrorists mano a mano is Harrison Ford in “Air Force One”.
One thing I’ve always found interesting about that photo is how the president seems like one of the underelings in the group. He’s actually sitting lower than anyone in the photo. If you didn’t know who was the commander in chief you’d probably pick out 4 or 5 other people before you’d pick Obama. Maybe that was planned, maybe not but it doesn’t seem to show the president as some pompus blunderbust looking out only for the image of number 1. Gotta hand it to Obama he’s a gifted politician and a great leader, even if he’s understated at times.
Good heavens Doug, how can you say THIS was done to gain political advantage? Everyone agrees it could have been a complete disaster just like the failed rescue mission by Carter. Failure could have cost Obama the election in much the same way it hurt Carter.
It’s important to remember that, except for maybe Tora Bora, there was really no moment before the raid when we had much of any inkling where the heck OBL was. So, it’s not like W knew all the time and just chose not to carry out a raid.
However, it is an important distinction about whether to go in with men or bombs, and I agree here Obama made a gutsy and correct call.
Bush’s comments (later echoed by Romney) about not being fixated on Bin Laden are quite revealing, but not in the way many think. I believe that after the initial counterattack in Afghanistan, the establishment of Homeland Security, the “theater” of airport security, and the passage of a bit of time post-9/11, the Bush Administration internally realized that Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism did NOT truly constitute an existential threat to the US. Thus the urgency to pursue OBL waned.
However, they also realized that keeping the sense of being “terrorized” at a high pitch gave them wide latitude in foreign policy to pursue goals long-held by many in the Administration (though not necessarily GWB himself) PRIOR to 9/11. Hence Iraq.
And Ryan Zinke and Bob Kerrey are not your average SEALs. They are public men who happen to have been SEALs.
I grew up around Navy people, and I know to what extent they see themselves almost as cloistered away from politics. They live in a different world, with different values. I place SEALs within that context, with the added factor that their service is more shadowy. With very little to go on, I admit, I strongly suspect that the only people whose opinion of what they do SEALs care about is other SEALs.
I’ve only met a handful of SEALs, and they were of that first generation, which I admit may skew my image of them.
My Dad had SEALs working for him in Vietnam in 67-68. At that time, their very existence was a secret. They had NO public image. Nor did they want one. I met some of them later on.
My most vivid memory was one weekend when my mother and brother and I went on a dependent’s cruise on my Dad’s ship (something the Navy occasionally did for families, so they could see what their Dads/husbands did). We went from Pearl Harbor to off the Kona Coast of the Big Island. We reached our anchorage late Friday night. A couple of my Dad’s SEAL friends had hitched a ride. When we were still out at sea on our way in, well after dark, they went overboard with a black rubber raft, and immediately disappeared in the darkness. They were going scuba diving. They rejoined the ship later, after it had dropped anchor. One of them brought my Mom a hunk of coral he’d cut from the bottom.
That made quite a deep impression on me — those guys just slipping off into the black vastness of the Pacific, far from land, and the ship leaving them behind. It seems so unlikely that I wonder if I didn’t just overdramatize the incident the way kids do. Maybe we were in closer than I remember. Maybe it wasn’t as dark as I remember. But I don’t think so.
@Brad – There are no such thing as “average SEALs”
“The WH tells a court the bin Laden raid is top secret, as it keeps leaking snippets to glorify the President.”
I liked your comment: “To become a politician, you first have to make a decision to compromise your principles when necessary.
That’s very true; we all must learn to compromise WHEN NECESSARY. Those who don’t see the distinction between honest compromise and political expediency miss the crucial difference between the two.
And I’m afraid our friend Doug quite honestly and sincerely does fail to see the distinction.
I would put what he said another way: To be effective in politics, you have to realize early on that you are seldom, if ever, going to get your way. There are too many other people involved, and each and every one of them has just as much right for his views and interests to be considered as you do. And it is RIGHT, and not evidence of dysfunction, for the things that happen to reflect that diversity of interests and opinions and attitudes rather than for policies and outcomes to closely reflect YOUR principles.
We’re talking about the realities of working with other human beings. If you go in believing that anything short of a pure expression of your principles is unacceptable, then you might as well stay home and forget about it.
I’m with Karen. I preferred the selective strike instead of a “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” approach.
I also think President Obama has every right to claim this as a part of his legacy. Any other President would do the same regardless of party.
“To be effective in politics, you have to realize early on that you are seldom, if ever, going to get your way.”
So in other words, if this is true, SC politicians are doing it wrong.
@Mark and Brad
Which is why government performs at an average level at best and worse more often.
And let’s not make these politicians noble pragmatists. They trade their principles for power and money. We’d see a much different behavior if term limits were in place.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a perfect example of what political compromise gets you.
Thank you for a well reasoned and well thought out comment. Thank you for not being a freaked out Bush hater who must insist on blasting him at every opportunity.
Apparently, some have a Bush voodoo doll and spend their free time pushing pins in all the vunerable places in order to gain some personal revenge and disturbing satisfaction by the mere act of “sticking it to GWB”.
Obama deserves the credit for making a good decision and the right one by allowing a team of Seals who were under the guidance of a knowledgeable admiral who did all of the hard work on the planning and execution of the raid to proceed. The world is better off without Osama Bin Laden and without hesitation or reservation, again, Obama is to be given credit.
My only complaint is that it is time to lay the victory torch down and stop taking laps at every opportunity. When Bush would start to talk about Iraq, etc., I changed the channel. After a while, enough is enough.
As for trashing Romney over his remark about Jimmy Carter, lest we forget, Carter has earned the reputation since leaving the White House of one who would never agree to a hostile action unless provoked and had no other choice.
In this, as almost everything about the man, I give President Obama the credit of which he is truly deserving militarily: authorizing drones of the aerodynamic and human courage variety. He also gets my credit for getting soldiers killed, after bin Laden was assassinated, which is the point during the prior administration that Democrats often pointed to as the exact event that would mark the end of the current hostilities!
Didn’t Mitt say earlier he would not authorize going in to Pakistan to get Osama?
Another thing: You go Bud!!
If you read Gate’s speech, especially the part Brad chose to highlight, it brings another thought process to the discussion.
In 1980 when the mission failed and America was embarrassed in front of the entire world, it brought to the forefront a problem that continually confounded and kept the military from acting as a cohesive unit especially on special ops.
They learned a valuable lesson from that failure and moved forward in the right direction by removing the barriers of cooperation and planning between the branches.
As an end result, when the Seal team was able to successfully enter the Bin Laden compound, kill him, and leave with no casualties in under 15 minutes, the birth of success rose from the seed of failure planted in 1980.
In an historical context where Carter is the ultimate scapegoat for a structural failure of the military system cooperation process, Obama is the recipient of accolades and praises because of the restructuring of the way the military operates now vs. 1980 and his crowning achievement is a direct result of Carter’s supposed failure.
So, in the end, just who is responsible for the actual raid and who is responsible for the revised and improved version of our current military efficiency? Obama gave the go ahead, he did not, I repeat, did not do the actual planning.
However, he still deserves the credit because he is the president and such is the fortune of politics.
@Doug T – I don’t know, did he say that? A source would be nice if not asking for too much.
I think Romney’s quote was to the effect that he wouldn’t spend billions of dollars hunting down Bin Laden. Perhaps had the cost been less he would have considered going after him.
Good points Bart. The mission in Iran, as I recall, involved several branches of the military and the coordination was apparently lacking. The mistake Carter made was trying to be all-inclusive. From that disaster developed a system designed specifically for these types of missions. Even so, in the Bin Laden mission one of the helicopters crashed and things could have gone disasterously wrong. Its essential to be very good and well trained but it helps to have a bit of luck also.
“As for trashing Romney over his remark about Jimmy Carter, lest we forget, Carter has earned the reputation since leaving the White House of one who would never agree to a hostile action unless provoked and had no other choice.”-Bart
and what is wrong with that standard? Seems to me to be exactly the standard we should apply before we send troops in harm’s way and squander scarce resources and engender generations of America-haters…
@Doug — As far as term limits go — hasn’t California had term limits since the late 90s? They still seem like such a mess, but since you’re a proponent of term limits, I thought you might know more about how it has affected or not affected the health of their state.
(I know something like 15 states total have term limits, too, like Florida and Ohio I think, though most of them seem to be low-population states – not Florida and Ohio, of course — that’s why I mention them).
“I think Romney’s quote was to the effect that he wouldn’t spend billions of dollars hunting down Bin Laden.”
Okay, funny guy… now give bud his account back. You had us up until you defended a rich Republican.
“Like” what Kathryn said.
That was not the point of my comment. There is nothing wrong with that standard, what the reference was about was that even Jimmy Carter and his reluctance to engage in a hostile act would have approved the action against Bin Laden. Nothing in my comment supported war or military action against anyone.
Yeah, no picking on Bart. If you want warmongering, you come to ME. Everybody knows that…
Other fine examples of the wonderfulness known as political compromise:
The Confederate Flag on the state house grounds… deficit spending (each side gets what they want, the American public gets screwed), No Child Left Behind, a Social Security system that is going broke but nobody has the guts to fix in an election year, a Medicare system full of fraud, wars without declaring wars…
How about some examples of GOOD compromise that has worked out well?
Bart, Jimmy Carter was very upfront in dealing with foreign threats. He did many unpopular actions that may have ultimately cost him the 1980 election. He refused to sell wheat to the Russians. He also boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Most importantly, unlike his successor, he refused to negotiate with the Iranians who took our embassy personnel. And he negotiated the very unpopular Panama Canal Treaty. Plus he refused to light the national Christmas tree. All those things were confrontational and unpopular. So why does he have this reputation as someone who refused to do unpopular things?
Now we have a presidential candidate who never served in the military basically calling him a coward. Facts are funny things. They don’t always prove something that is regarded as conventional wisdom. I think that has a lot to do with the Republican propoganda machine, a remarkable outfit that can make a silk purse out of sows ear at the drop of a hat.
Doug, there’s no question that compromise is unsatisfactory.
Personally, I prefer enlightened despotism, with me as the despot. You wouldn’t see a lot of namby-pamby, blah compromises under THAT system, I promise you.
Good compromises? Frankly, I thought DADT, which you cited above, was a good compromise. But the activists weren’t happy with it and wanted Victory, and kept everything roiled up until they got it. They were sort of like me on the flag issue.
And actually, the flag compromise would have been a pretty decent one for its time had it been enacted in 1994, when it was first floated. But by 2000, the conversation had moved way beyond that, and SC was ready to put the matter behind us for good. But the Legislature was not, and simply grabbed at this concession to the pro-flag folks as a way of dealing with it quickly and avoiding having to talk about it. The House allowed ONE day for debate, and wouldn’t allow any other plan but that to advance — for the simple fact that that was what had passed the Senate, so it would be the quickest.
The opportunity to spend just a bit longer and deal with the issue for good was squelched by Speaker Wilkins, as I recall.
The flag compromise was fine if people would just shut up about it. DADT was a good example of incrementalism. It served as a good first step toward the ultimate solution. Social Security is fine with a bit of tweaking. Medicare works fine too. Not sure why Doug keeps harping on that. It helps ensure Granny gets proper healthcare, something that won’t happen with any free-market solution. Deficit spending is more about taxes than spending. Just raise taxes on the rich and cut the military budget and we achieve a balanced budget.
Doug is right on one, no child left behind. Bipartisan cooperation at its worst.
bud – not everyone who served in the military is a hero. I’ve worked with plenty who were down-right morons and likely more of a threat to the country than a defender. There was a time when people who got in trouble had two choices, jail or the military.
“Now we have a presidential candidate who never served in the military basically calling him a coward.”…..bud
Agreed, Romney never served in the military. Point taken. Now, will you agree to the counterpoint that the current occupant of the White House never served in the military either?
And, to anticipate your counterpoint about the occupant before Obama, notice I didn’t mention his name because I do care about your blood pressure because as we get older, blood vessels standing out on our forehead is not a good thing.
Back to the point, even though the prior occupant technically did serve in the military, he did so in a way many of his generation chose to serve, in the reserves or National Guard.
So, when we point out Romney’s lack of military experience, as the old saying goes, there are at least 3 fingers pointing right back at the finger pointer.
Carter may not have been weak as you have pointed out but it is not the fact that he took positions that were counter to public opinion; Carter simply “appeared” to be weak. In politics as in all other aspects of our public persona; appearances and perception are what we are judged by.
Jimmy Carter could have saved the world from a nuclear disaster by defusing a live device and then crawled into a “closed cage match” and beat the “crap” out of Khrushchev and he would still be perceived as “weak”.
I was a huge fan of Jimmy’s when he was in office. And for that matter, I always rather liked the first President Bush. (I was sort of rooting for him to get the nomination in 1980, but Reagan rolled right over him.)
But however much I might like both of them, the objective truth is that both suffered from the “wimp factor.”
Not that either of them WAS a wimp, but they had to deal with that perception. Public opinion can be pretty unforgiving.
Jimmy tried to deal with it by such expedients as saying, when Ted Kennedy challenged him for re-election, “I’ll kick his ass.” (Which he did.)
Bush did it by kicking Saddam out of Kuwait.
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”—President Carter’s July 15, 1979 speech, in my opinion still one of the most remarkable speeches addressed to the American people by any President, ever.
I think of those words often these days, in light of the extent to which self-centeredness, consumption, ownership of material goods, are elevated to almost a religious status, as the ultimate (perhaps only) American values by one of the predominant political ideologies today.
The reason people think Carter looked strong, was because before Carter we had Ford.
“Social Security is fine with a bit of tweaking. Not sure why Doug keeps harping on that.”
Can you point to any evidence that suggest Social Security is fine? What sort of tweaking do you think will be required — and by tweaking I assume you mean raising the taxes on SOMEBODY to make it solvent. It’s a system that cannot stand on its own due to demographics. The number of people collecting continues to grow while the number of people paying in shrinks.
The only options are to raise the retirement age, cut benefits, raise taxes (on the people who are already overpaying into the system).
There is no model that shows Social Security surviving without major changes. And to think the one of the great ideas of the past few years was to CUT the taxes paid into a system already heading toward insolvency is another example of political compromise. Just increase the deficit and we’ll deal with the problem LATER.
<3 what Phillip said.
Concerning SS. Eliminate the earnings cap and raise the eligibility age. We could go to 64 for early retirement and 69 for full retirement. That should keep it solvent forever. Given the corporate propensity to get rid of pensions this is about the only retirement income for millions of Americans. Let’s not let this national treasure go.
“Given the corporate propensity to get rid of pensions this is about the only retirement income for millions of Americans.” – bud
Yes, for the Americans who rely on the gov’t for cradle to grave security, and can’t be bothered to stop leasing cars, getting tattoos, having kids they can’t afford, and certainly don’t save for their own retirement.
For goodness’ sake – start an IRA, a SEP, Keogh or participate in your company’s 401(k)! Social Security was never intended to be anyone’s sole retirement fund, so don’t treat it like one!
Silence, I completely agree. SS should NOT be anyone’s sole retirement fund. IRAs etc are good ways to build a retirement fund but if one losses his/her job that money can be tapped for emergencies. Given the uncertainty in the economy isn’t it comforting to know that at least one source of income will be available? Not sure I understand all the naysaying on this. SS has worked well for nearly 80 years and will continue to do so into the foreseable future.
Phillip, is that the infamous “malaise” speech that has been demogagued by the Republicans for 30+ years? At the time I thought, wow, great speech. But over time it was spun into something compeletely urelated to the actual words used in the speech. Looking back on it now if Carter’s advice had been followed we’d be in much better shape as a nation today. Instead of builing cutting edge transportation systems we wasted trillions on useless military crap. We even maintained battleships into the 1990s! Today we could be riding in bullet trains to rival the world. Instead we continue to drive around in huge SUVs that kill and pollute.
Yeah, I liked that speech and ones like it at the time. I liked that Jimmy was sort of channeling Jerry Brown’s “Less is more” message.
Now, however, I read it and think… wow, Jimmy, that’s no way to stimulate the economy, is it? Urging people not to buy stuff? Really? So what happens to the jobs of the people who make that stuff, or market that stuff, or work in the stores that sell that stuff, or are employed extracting the raw materials used to make that stuff, etc., etc.? If you’re in a malaise, sitting on whatever money you have is no way to help your society pull out of it.
@bud – Tapping one’s IRA carries a significant penalty, 10% plus ordinary income taxes, believe, except in certain situations.
Social Security can absolutely be fixed: The federal government controls both the money going in and the money being paid out.
The real question about SS is what it’s going to be. Is it going to be a true social insurance program for old age and disability, or is going to become simply a wealth transfer program?
By the way, I’m completely for what bud advocates: “Eliminate the earnings cap and raise the eligibility age.” they are both entirely obvious. They should be done even if the system were not in trouble.
I think eliminating the earnings cap for SS is a bad idea. Either you end up increasing benefits for high wage earners – or you convert the program from a true social insurance program into a welfare program. It shouldn’t be a welfare program, in my opinion. As I understand it, it was sold to the public as an old age (or disability) insurance program, not a wealth transfer program.
Raising the cap wouldn’t buy you much breathing room anyhow.
Yes, Bud, I think that was the malaise speech, in which he never uttered the word malaise. (Interesting background on the speech here. Mondale for one was totally against the tone Carter was setting.)
Brad, you make a good point of course. But the antithesis of this speech, the Bush exhortation to go shopping after 9/11, kind of proves Carter’s point, which may have been ultimately politically suicidal but was no less true for that: that the civic values that had defined so much of the American character were being subsumed by the consumerist values that had really become unleashed in the postwar, mass media era.
Essentially it was a Marxist critique (laced with a healthy dose of Protestant moralism) of American society which is still rather delicious to read today as coming from a sitting President.
I’ll go for any changes to Social Security caps/retirement ages on one condition: the money that goes into Social Security can only be used for that purpose. No using the built up reserves to fund other things by using it as an asset that can be borrowed against by the government. Politicians just can’t keep their hands off a big pot of money sitting there.
Raising the cap wouldn’t buy you much breathing room anyhow.
I’ve heard it argued both ways. (It helps a lot or really doesn’t do much at all). Does anyone have any links to a good technical discussion of the numbers?
It was never a true social insurance program. It’s not insurance. People collected on Day One who’d never paid a “premium.” It truly is a pyramid scheme and is a “welfare” program. The politics demands some window dressing, but there you have it.
I disagree with ‘Kathryn – maybe it was just window dressing, and yes, people collected from day 1 – but it was billed as an insurance program, even if was pay as you go.
It’s not a PERSONAL security program. It’s a SOCIAL security program. The point is that it’s part of the infrastructure of society that we pay for through taxes. It makes sure that people are not COMPLETELY destitute in old age, even if they were unable to put away savings when they were working.
It makes no sense for the wealthy to pay a smaller percentage of their income than other people do. It’s not about what YOU pay and what YOU get out of it; it’s about the fact that we decided as a society to make some provision for old age, and this is it.
And if you want this fundamental institution to be adequately funded, it makes zero sense for people to suddenly stop paying at some point in the year, because of an arbitrary cap.
“even if they were unable to put away savings when they were working.” – Brad
Or unwilling, in most cases.
seriously though, if you are going to provide a social insurance program to make sure that people aren’t completely destitute, why not limit it to a particular level of wages? You pay benefits only up to a certain amount too.
What we need is an education campaign and to reintroduce people to the concept of “thrift” and increase the national savings rate. We should also reward people for making good decisions, like the deduction offered for retirement savings, but put it on steroids. People need to be more responsible for their own financial security.
No! That makes no sense (what you said in your first paragraph). It’s not about the INDIVIDUAL providing for his retirement. It’s about the SOCIETY making sure that there is a certain level of support for all retired people.
If it were about what an individual puts away for himself, then those libertarians who say an IRA or some other sort of personal account would perform better are right. But that is NOT what it is about. It’s not about YOU providing for YOUR retirement. There are other means for doing that, available to anyone who can afford to put money away.
This exists because we decided it was not a good thing, not a thing we would tolerate, to have old people starving to death. So we came up with a program to prevent it.
“This exists because we decided it was not a good thing, not a thing we would tolerate, to have old people starving to death. So we came up with a program to prevent it.”
Because we couldn’t expect people to ask for help or give it freely.
Better to put a complicated system in place to deal with people who have a lifetime to save money but don’t or have wealth they choose not to share with others.
It was poorly designed and poorly implemented. Other than that, it works… right up until the next decade or so when the baby boomers start to retire in droves. Then it will collapse as most pyramid schemes do.
The cap makes perfect sense. What are you proposing, that Bill Gates send in a check for a Billion dollars a year so that he can collect 7 Billion dollar checks when he is 65? It would be absurdity. The whole point is that it provides a reasonable amount up to a point, and likewise extracts a reasonable amount up to a point. Social Security is not the real problem anyway (forecasting 40 years into the future is nonsense). The problem is healthcare.
Tim, I have no idea what you’re saying. You must not be paying attention to what I’m saying. Why would anyone get a billion a year from a program that essential exists to keep people from starving?
And Doug, try to understand me… We decided that it was ALWAYS a good idea to keep people from starving — not just the ones who came up to us and asked for help. We decided they shouldn’t have to ask, you might say…
The cap is a means of capping the contributions received so that you cannot alternately get a benefit without limit.
If you are talking means-testing, that is another issue altogether.
@Brad–Tim is agreeing with you, using sarcasm. Pay attention.
@Silence– We had a ton socked away in our 403(b) that the titans of finance managed to decimate, literally, for us….and the perfesser has tenure, is paid well, and has always had excellent health and health insurance. Most are not so fortunate. They barely make ends meet before a crisis happens, and then…. Sure, the people you know live high off the hog, no doubt, and should be saving mightily for retirement, but many have had to eat into any savings they had to survive job losses, uncovered health costs….
“And Doug, try to understand me… We decided that it was ALWAYS a good idea to keep people from starving —”
When was that not a good idea? Oh, you mean it was a good idea for the government to implement a complex tax based welfare system to deal with the issue. Because there was no other way to handle it.. letting people keep 13% of their income for their lifetimes and expecting them to put some of it away over the course of 50 years was not an option.
And let me ask you – when your parents retired, were they close to being starving? Are they now? If not, then why are they receiving money to keep people from starving?
If Social Security was intended to keep people from starving, why does EVERYONE get it? I have no problem contributing to the poor but why should I contribute to the retirement of the rich as well?
@ Kathryn – umm, did you pull out of equities and put it in a savings account in March of 2009? If not, you should have bounced back pretty well.
Great. Now I am Dinsdale.
So we should pay 6.2% of our gross incomes, and our employer should pay another 6.2% of our gross incomes and if we happen to be successful, we should get nothing back?
I was going to answer Doug, but Silence made it unnecessary.
Yes, the fund would go a lot farther if it only went to the truly needy. But the political reality is that people would not put up with not getting their Social Security.
I know Doug won’t like that, because he dislikes things being done a certain way because otherwise it would be politically impossible to do them. I don’t like it, either, but I acknowledge the reality of it.
No, we should pay 2-3% of our incomes into the widows, orphans, disabled, and starving retired people fund and keep the rest for ourselves to own. It’s a concept Brad is uncomfortable with – owning the fruits of your own labor versus contributing by law into a social fund managed by bureaucrats. He’s all for shared sacrifice as long as some people share more than others.
So now Social Security ISN’T about keeping old people from starving, right? Because it pays out money to everyone, starving or not.
Why should I contribute to YOUR retirement? Are you expecting to be desititute in a dozen years? Why should my contributions go into your pocket? I won’t ask you for a handout.
@ Brad – people wouldn’t tolerate the arrangement if it wasn’t for EVERYBODY. For a lot of folks, it’s a large chunk of the taxes that they pay to the federal gov’t every year. If there was no expectation of future benefits, and it was seen as a wealth transfer program it would cease to be the third rail and become a convenient political target for cutting or elimination.
Once again though, I’ll make the pitch to fund all government programs out of the general fund. Don’t make special taxes for special programs. If Social Security is going to be a separately taxed entity, it should be run as a separate entity, and be for everyone. If it’s going to be just for poor folks, let’s kill the 6.2% tax and the employer portion as well, and just raise income taxes by the appropriate amount. See how well that’ll go over.
@ Silence–Buy and hold is my motto. You can’t time the market, and we choose no load market basket funds. We have been trying to rebalance by buying debt, but growth hasn’t restored our equities as much as we lost, I think. 2% a year wouldn’t account for the losses, would it?
If we happen to be successful, isn’t that enough? Society worked for you if you are successful. Be grateful and pony up.
You say it’s not about what you pay and what you get out of it, but it seems, in fact, that that is the political reality of it.
That is why people would not put up with Doug’s means-testing and that is why there will continue to be a cap on wages.
@ ‘Kathryn – I’m a big fan of buy and hold as well, I’ve done very well since the crash, I’ve got no complaints other than I feel like asset (both debt and equity) prices have gotten too high. Still, I buy every paycheck. I don’t know why anyone would choose a fund with a load, anymore, that’s ridiculous. Low-cost index funds, or a life-cycle fund made up of low cost index funds are the way to go for average people who want above average returns. Most investors don’t even realize the market returns. Still, you shouldn’t be seeing 2% a year, and why are you buying debt? Bonds are very expensive right now. I keep having very good ones called.
I wish you two would speak English.
“If we happen to be successful, isn’t that enough? Society worked for you if you are successful. Be grateful and pony up.”
I’m okay with ponying up. It’s when I have to do the whole horse that I start to complain. My family’s tax bill was significantly more than my wife’s salary last year. That’s way too much for a middle income family.
As Silence said, let’s have one tax and THEN decide how to spend the money.
Vielleicht wir sollen Deutsch sprechen fur Sieg am Europa Tag.
There’s “success” and then there’s “success”… Like Doug said, I’m happy to pay my “fair share” but I don’t want to pay everyone else’s too.
It’s funny how we are suprised when people behave in a distorted fashion because of the tax code or government programs and the incentives or disincentives that they provide.
Because we are over 50 but our retirement portfolio is seriously heavy in equity. That’s why we took such a hit in the crash–poor balance. We’re trying to get to about 60/40 equity/debt split. I really should check on it, though–not leave it up to the perfesser….
Brad–as a grown-up, you should know what we are talking about. Stocks are equities, because they represent an ownership interest, like the equity in your house. Bonds are debt because they are loans to a company or municipality, like the mortgage loan on your house. It’s generally a good idea to have your retirement portfolio balanced to hedge against various markets–in a recession, debt looks good, generally, while in a boom, equities do. As you get closer to retirement age, your risk should go down–one rule-of-thumb is to have your percentage of debt equal your age, but a more aggressive stance is to have it equal your age minus ten, to account for the generally strong performance of stocks over time.
Even if you have a “guy” to handle this stuff for you, you should understand the general principles and monitor your portfolio. For one thing, how many stories of “guys” gone bad have you read?
Are you referring to my man of business?
I try to visit with him whenever I’m in town, but one does weary of going to the city. Much prefer to be riding over my land, shooting things and visiting with the tenants…
and we know how well that worked out for them what as rode, shot and visited….they thrive only on the BBC at present….
If anyone wants to get very smart about investing, I would recommend Benjamin Graham’s book: “The Intelligent Investor.” Get the current edition with annotation and commentary by Jason Zweig.
If you enjoy that one, and have trouble falling asleep at night, read Graham’s more serious tome: “Security Analysis.”
Between these two books you’ll learn all that you ever need to know about how to invest successfully.