Bachmann Knows Social Security Fear-Mongering When She Sees It

Scaring seniors is reckless and wrong, unless you're struggling in the polls

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Michele Bachmann, having been overshadowed in last week's Republican debate, has a lot riding on tonight's showdown, sponsored by the Tea Party Express and all, and has settled on just the issue to rescue her floundering campaign: she'll attack frontrunner Rick Perry for calling Social Security an unconstitutional "Ponzi scheme." See, Bachmann is positioning herself as a valiant defender of the popular program and setting herself out as the savior to the seniors who actually bother to show up for things like primary caucuses. If you're a senior and scared for your Social Security check, Bachmann's the candidate for you, so the talking points go.

Talking with Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson, Bachmann made a case for there being two kinds of Republicans: ones like her who will make sure that grandma doesn't lose sleep over her Social Security check and twangy Texans who would make grandma choose between eating and watching cable TV:

What I think about Social Security is that the United States made a decision 80 years ago about retirement for senior citizens. I do believe that Social Security is in trouble going forward. It needs to be reformed and modified so that we can keep the promise that’s been made to senior citizens.  We can’t ask anyone that’s on Social Security right now to change their benefits. We just can’t because people have made their plans. They’ve made their live’s decisions in such a way depending upon what they expected was to be an earned income for the remainder of their life.

What a dreadful thing for the U.S. to do, not being absolutely certain that Social Security checks will arrive on time or in the amount that was promised! Bachmann's spokeswoman Alice Stewart made it clear in comments to Politico that her boss was the Make Sure Social Security Checks Are Paid candidate:

Michele looks forward to the opportunity to explain the sharp contrast between her view of Social Security and that of Gov. Perry. Michele believes Social Security is an important safety net for Americans who have paid into the program all their lives and the federal government should keep its promise to seniors. She believes it’s wrong for a candidate to make seniors worry about the safety net they are entitled to.

Of course, it was just a few months ago when the U.S. Treasury was facing the possibility of running out of all money and thus unable to issue checks, including Social Security payments, if it couldn't borrow more money. Three weeks before the government was going to go broke, President Obama pointed out, "There are about 70 million checks that go out each month. I can not guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it."

Bachmann, who vowed to never lift the debt ceiling, had just two words for such talk: "scare tactics." She quickly responded at a press conference that (since she didn't believe the government running out of money actually means it would run out of money) Obama had committed a political foul:

We were all shocked and appalled that President Obama dangled out in front of the cameras that senior citizens may not get their checks. That’s a very dangerous statement to make, [and] we don’t believe that for a moment. 

In fact, in nearly the same breath that she condemned Perry's "Ponzi scheme" and "monstrous lie" comments (which, to be fair, was making the point that he didn't think Social Security could stay solvent long enough for kids today to collect; not that he favored cutting current benefits) on the air with Radio Iowa, Bachmann was sticking to her fear-mongering claim about Obama.

I think that it is not good when President Obama, for instance, made the comment — recklessly, in my opinion — that seniors may not get their Social Security checks in August when we were dealing with the debt ceiling debate. That was irresponsible for the president to do that. He created a great deal of fear. In fact, I was in Dexter, Iowa with senior citizens and I was told by them that there were those that had cancelled some of their bills. They had cancelled services into their home like the internet and cable and other services because they thought the president was telling them they weren’t going to get a Social Security check.

Of course, when trying to distinguish between what's "reckless" and what's a "sharp contrast" when it comes to demagoguery, Bachman should be trusted. She's an expert. Bachmann began her political career campaigning against state policies offering vocational training to public school students. Funneling students into career training was the first step toward a centrally-planned economy, Bachmann told a Minnesota church in the late 90s. "Government now will be controlling people," Bachmann said. "What has history shown us about planned, state economies in the last one hundred years? Think Fascism, think Communism, think socialism. Think, the state-planned economies, totalitarianism. Think Cuba! Do you want Cuba's economy or do you want the United States of America's economy?"
Bachmann has repeatedly warned of the dire consequences of gay marriage. It's not just that gays will get to marry, she argues, but they'll force their gayness on everyone else. In 2004 and 2006, Bachmann warned that if gay marriage is allowed, "Schools will then be teaching that homosexuality, or lesbianism, or same-sex marriage, or group marriage, or polygamy is normal, natural and maybe kids should try it."
In 2009, Bachmann warned that the then-not-yet-passed health care overhaul would create sex clinics in schools:
"It means that parents will never know what kind of counsel and treatment that their children are receiving. As a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what's going to go on --- comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care. ...
Is that abortion? Does that mean that someone's 13-year old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back, and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser. They don't know any different."
Interestingly, another issue about which Bachmann has used fright languages is, you guessed it, Social Security. As Yahoo's Chris Moody points out, in February 2010, Bachmann told Fox Business that the country is not too big to fail. In fact, she said, "we’re so close now to being at that point" because of "unfunded massive liabilities." like, you guessed it, Social Security. What should lawmakers do? Phase the program out, she said:
So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don't have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can't do it.
Bachmann went further, calling the program is "a tremendous fraud." She continued:
No company could get away with this, they'd be thrown in jail if they ever tried to do what the federal government did with people's Social Security money.
As if they were, say, the perpetrators of a Ponzi scheme?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.