by Rod D. Martin
April 29, 2005

You’d never know it listening to the mainstream media, but poll after poll shows big majorities for private Social Security accounts. And the numbers are increasing, fast.

A month ago, pollsters found 60 percent of Americans backing private accounts, from a low of 54 percent among seniors to a high of 76 percent among those under 30. This was in spite of an ad blitz by the AARP designed to scare seniors (and everyone else) out of their skins.

But that was nothing. As great as those numbers were — and as much a no-brainer as they made the President’s plan — what’s happened since makes them look downright paltry.

Wednesday’s Opinion Dynamics poll showed huge gains for private accounts among all age groups. Overall, a whopping 79 percent of Americans believe people under 55 should have the right to personally invest a portion of their Social Security savings. Among those under 55, the number jumps to 84 percent. And here’s the real kicker: more than three quarters of all Americans — 77 percent — say they trust themselves over the government (just 15 percent) when it comes to making retirement investment decisions.

This battle ought to be over. Despite the loud, unified opposition of virtually all media, all the Democratic leadership, all the self-appointed elites, Americans have made up their minds: government bad, freedom good. And they’re right. Government has about as much business running a pension plan as a steel mill; and it’s increasingly obvious that America’s socialists haven’t done a lot better than their Communist counterparts.

Anyone with a 401(k) or IRA knows this already. Of course, rich girls like Nancy Pelosi don’t need such things; and they can afford to choose poverty for everyone else.

But the problem today isn’t Ms. Pelosi, and it isn’t the American people. The problem is communication. The President has had a bad several months on this score across a range of issues, though not for lack of trying. He was just right to take his plan to the American people these past few months, his performance in last night’s press conference was good, and despite the media lie that he called for “benefit cuts”, the specifics he lined out represent an embrace of the (good) ideas suggested by the 2002 report of the bipartisan Social Security reform commission. The President’s pledge is to utterly eliminate poverty among future seniors. Somehow NBC missed that.

Indeed, it wasn’t exactly a shock last week when the Media Research Center found that network news coverage is biased 2 to 1 against Social Security reform. But blaming the media goes only so far. If there’s a communications problem, it is chiefly this: the President has allowed “everything’s on the table” to degenerate out of control: the left has seized the opportunity to cast private accounts not as the centerpiece but as a risky add-on to be negotiated away. And when the president himself focuses elsewhere (as last night), things begin spinning hopelessly wide of the mark.

This has to stop. The whole point of reform — and the President’s purpose from day one — has been the very choice Americans are demanding. Want a “lockbox”? Private accounts are the answer, because government can’t spend them. Want to make Social Security solvent? Private accounts are the way, because bigger private accounts allow more people to escape the current system and result in huge surpluses down the line for those they leave behind. Want benefit increases? Private accounts are the solution: because those surpluses mean the truly poor get more, and because the private accounts themselves — even if invested extremely conservatively — yield at least triple the monthly check every American can expect to retire on.

Oh, and you want to make sure no one falls through the cracks, losing their money in some “risky scheme”? Adopt the the Ryan-Sununu bill, which does everything just stated, and guarantees a floor underneath everyone: no one will ever get less than they’re supposed to right now.

The key to all of this is focus. The President’s on the right track, and he’s doing a great job of being a statesman.

But he’s got to keep his eye on the ball. Every public utterance should center on the benefits of (big) private accounts. No Senator wants to lose his seat over an amorphous mass of poorly-understood tinkerings. And the President didn’t pick this fight for less than real reform. He needs to say so, clearly, and so give voice in Washington to the already-sold American people. And then he needs to push Ryan-Sununu straight through Congress to victory.