You're going to hear a lot about Alf Landon these next weeks and months. (Time cover from Wikipedia.)
Democrats are already talking about him. Landon ran against Social Security, they say. And lost.
It's true. What we know of today as Social Security was passed in 1935. Landon's arguments are summarized in this poster Hakes Americana recently auctioned. He argued that it was a 6% tax on wages, that its promises would not be kept.
I will not promise the Moon, he said. FDR went ballistic. "Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side," he thundered in a speech at the old Madison Square Garden.
What's interesting is that this seems an argument many Republicans are happy to revisit. George W. Bush made an effort to "reform" Social Security a hallmark of his second term. (It was drowned in the Katrina bathtub.)
In contrast to the pension system in, say, Canada, Social Security money is not invested. It's a pass-through. You're promised certain benefits but the government has been borrowing against the Social Security Trust Fund for years.
Critics also argue it is not "actuarially sound." As America gets older more-and-more of us old timers are burdening fewer-and-fewer workers. (Here is a collection of nine articles by Social Security reformers from Helium.com. Enjoy.)
Many of these arguments are being echoed in the second health care debate, which begins today with the signing of the bill, and will continue through the next two election cycles. It's a power grab. It will bankrupt us. It will kill jobs.
One thing I can guarantee is that Landon's name will come up increasingly as the debate goes on. Democrats will argue that he was politically wrong, Republicans that he was technically right.
Landon, it should be noted, lived to his 100th birthday, and to see his daughter Nancy Landon Kassebaum serving in the U.S. Senate. (She is now 77 and happily married to former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker.) Which means Landon received Social Security for about 35 years, and got much more from it than what he put in. (FDR died at age 63.)
Now, with the history lesson under your belt, go forth and argue health reform all you want.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com