"The last thing we need to do is let those golden nipple-sucking thieves of Wall Street at our Social Security money!" Kevin Gaughan proclaimed to a delighted audience of about 400 retires and well-groomed young professionals at Station Square on April 6.
Gaughan wasn't asked to share his thoughts when Dick Cheney stopped by LaRoche College on March 24 to plug George W. Bush's nebulous Social Security privatization schemes. That audience of about 400 was specially invited. But he got his chance at AARP's Intergenerational Social Security Forum.
The silver-haired Gaughan, of Bethel Park, wore a navy blazer and khaki slacks; he could've easily passed for a Republican. He receives Social Security's disability insurance. "If you become disabled," he warned, leaning on his cane, "you will thank Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his compassion." Mm-hmm, murmured the oldest members of the crowd, who knew the New Deal president and Social Security champion long before they knew that Roosevelt would have been eligible for benefits himself.
At several appearances, including a Feb. 21 rally at Duquesne University with Sen. Rick Santorum, Bush surrogates have tried to win over young people (who mostly voted against Bush) for their proposal to redirect Social Security taxes into private investment accounts. AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired People) came out against private accounts in Social Security in January, says state director Fred Griesbach. But they knew they'd have to have a talk with their grandkids if their views on the issue were to prevail. So they included members of the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, which includes 14 local youth-oriented groups, in the forum.
Not surprisingly, most young people weren't experts on the Social Security program. But they seemed more willing to trust their elders than the president.
Noted Jennifer Rapach, a 34-year-old PUMP member and band teacher from McCandless, "Cheney's already admitted that private accounts won't make Social Security solvent." If Social Security needs to raise more funds, she asked, why don't administrators invest some of the money as a group, as does the public schoolteachers' state pension fund?
"I'm very cynical, very apprehensive," about the privatization idea, said Dale Musselman, 33, a North Hills software analyst. Though he acknowledged he didn't know much about Social Security -- "that's why I'm here" -- he figured that Bush's aggressive promotion was reason enough to be suspicious.
Retired plumber Ron Chalovich, 64, of Avalon, suggested raising the ceiling for the tax, which affects only up to $90,000 of any person's salary. Like a lot of the seniors who turned out, he also wanted to know why the government was mixing Social Security's current surplus in with the general budget -- now running a huge deficit, caused in part by Bush's tax cuts for the rich. Like foreign investors in America, the Social Security Trust Fund now holds treasury notes, and like those creditors, benefit recipients are counting on the feds to pay what's due.
"It's like so many things in America," concluded Chalovich. "The guys on the bottom are holding everybody up!"