October 20, 2000

Taking a Stand

Print More

Voter apathy is a major issue in the American political system, and unfortunately, young people are a large part of the problem. At Cornell, however, some students are bucking this trend by taking a stand and making their voices heard.

Nov. 7 will mark a milestone in the lives of many Cornellians as they close the curtains on their polling booths and vote in their first presidential election.

But even after the third and final presidential debate this week, many students are still undecided when it comes to choosing a candidate. Examining specific election issues is essential to making an educated choice.

Student representatives from the Republican, Democratic, Reform and Green parties as well as Prof. Walter R. Mebane, government, talked about their personal views on Social Security as an election issue and why they felt students should consider this issue before casting their ballots.

This is the first installment in a five part series in which The Sun will examine the election issues important to college students through the eyes of campus political activists and local experts.


Prof. Walter Mebane, government

“The first thing everyone needs to keep in mind is what Social Security is. Social Security is, first and foremost, a program to prevent unsurvivable poverty — destitution — among the elderly. The primary purpose of the program is to provide a floor of income for everyone who has reached retirement age. As such an anti-poverty program, Social Security has been tremendously successful.

“The success of the program translates into the reality that millions of retirees depend on their Social Security benefits to keep themselves fed, housed and clothed. Social Security also provides benefits to families of workers who die before reaching retirement. The need for Social Security to prevent especially old-age poverty is not going to go away in the forseeable future. Students should care about what happens to what has for a long time — since the 1950s — been one of the country’s most effective anti-poverty programs.

“Social Security is a contributory program. People receive benefits from the program in rough proportion to the amount they have paid in payroll taxes during their working careers. Th[is] contributory aspect of Social Security was originally intended to give each person such a strong individual claim on their future benefits as to make the program immune from political attack.

“[Vice President] Al Gore focuses on paying down the national debt and trying to boost long-run economic growth by means of targeted spending, including tax expenditures. The key idea in eliminating the national debt is to eliminate the taxes that would need to be paid in the future to maintain it — that is, to pay the interest on the debt — or to try to pay it down then. Instead of shifting taxes to future workers, have current workers pay them.

“[Texas Gov.] George W. Bush focuses on reducing taxes now in order to give individuals more flexibility to invest to boost economic growth. Instead of hurrying to reduce the debt dramatically now, the idea is to have the economy grow faster. By giving workers encouragement to direct part of their payroll tax payments into so-called personal accounts, the Bush plan is to shift a substantial part of the surplus directly into equity markets.

“An important aspect of the debate is transgenerational. Should the current public pay down the national debt or should that be left to the next generation (or maybe the one after that). Would a substantial current reduction of taxes make the next generation so much more wealthy that they will find it easy to afford tax payments that are perhaps sharply higher than today’s (or tomorrow’s). Today’s students are that next generation.”


Amy Gershkoff ’02

President, Leaders for Lazio

“Bush’s stance on Social Security, like his stance on every other issue, comes back to one of the fundamental beliefs of the Republican Party: individuals know how best to spend their own money. Not only does George W believe that individuals know best how to spend their money, but that they have the right to be able to spend their own money.

“Why should students care about Social Security? Why should students think now about retirement? Because starting from the day you earn your first dollar in the public workforce (for most students this day has already passed) you are paying into the Social Security system, a system which is at present giving a lousy return on investment and will likely be bankrupt long before current students have the opportunity to reap its benefits.

“Al Gore’s approach to Social Security is very different from Bush’s. Gore believes that individuals are not intelligent, not rational, and not to be trusted. He believes that the federal government is the all-knowing force that should be investing your money, deciding your health care, and regulating your life.”

Joe Sabia, grad

Member, College Republicans

“Gov. Bush trusts workers, especially young people, to make our own retirement decisions. To those who claim his plan is a “risky scheme”, Bush correctly points out that by 2014, Social Security payments will exceed payroll tax revenues, and by 2037, the Social Security program will exceed payroll tax revenues, and by 2037, the Social Security program will be bankrupt. Thus, the real risky scheme is leaving the program in the hands of the federal government.

“Social Security privatization is lauded by many Chicago economists, some of whom assisted in the successful privatization of the Chilean system. Governor Bush has showed tremendous courage in tackling this “third rail” of American politics. His reform agenda will empower young people by trusting us to make better retirement decisions than the federal government currently makes for us.

“At the core of Governor Bush’s ideological philosophy is a belief in individual liberty — the principle that individuals can best decide for themselves how to run their own lives without interference from the federal government. This philosophy is evident in the Governor’s proposed partial privatization of Social Security.”


Michael Moschella ’02

President, Cornell Democrats

“Gore and Joe Lieberman believe that we must stand committed to an economic strategy that focuses on increasing national saving, paying off the debt, and using the benefits to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. The cornerstone of the Gore-Lieberman approach is to protect our surplus from tax giveaways by placing it in a lockbox and keeping politicians’ hands off.

“The Gore-Lieberman formula also promotes private retirement savings by offering matching government funds for contributions into Retirement Savings Plus Accounts. These accounts would be based in the private sector, but are in addition to rock-solid Social Security benefits, thus not forcing workers to incur privatization risks, while still reaping all the benefits.

“The Democratic plan would not stop here. Al Gore would fight to eliminate the motherhood penalty in Social Security formulas, by crediting women with up to five years of work for time taken to raise a child. The Vice President would also fight to increase the widow benefit by decreasing the rate of benefit reduction that elderly women suffer when a husband passes away. These measures would slash poverty rates for our nation’s aged.

“The Gore-Lieberman plan invests wisely, and as a
result is able to preserve and even enhance benefits. On Election Day, voters can trust Al Gore to protect Social Security for everybody’s future.”


Sean Carver, grad

President, Cornell Green Party

“Proponents of privatizing Social Security scare the public into believing that Social Security is destined for bankruptcy when the Baby Boomers retire. As a result, many young people fear that there will be nothing left to support our generation when we retire. In fact, the program is on solid financial ground, according to the Social Security trustees’ annual report, which contain the most reliable and detailed projections.

“Only a modest increase in revenue will be needed over the next 75 years to offset rising costs resulting from the fact that retirees are living longer, and thus collecting more benefits. The Green Party is unfazed by these scare tactics. It opposes the privatization of Social Security since such a system would cost the American public more.

“On the other hand, the Green Party does favor some changes to Social Security. For example, minor adjustments could be made to increase benefits to widows and widowers. The change is in order because nearly 20 percent of elderly women living alone fall below the poverty line.”


Marshall Montgomery ’04

Reform Party Activist

“I was first drawn to the Reform Party for the Presidency because Pat Buchanan has chosen as the planks of his platform the traditions, values, and policy stances that have made this country what it is today — the arsenal of democracy, and world’s strategic reserve of freedom and independence. He is building the Reform Party into one that puts America and her citizens first, second, and third. He, like the founding fathers before him, trust the people of this country with control over their own lives.

“You see this in his plan for the rescue of Social Security. While it is not a major issue in his campaign, he recognizes that we cannot turn our backs on the “Greatest Generation.” A Buchanan administration would guarantee today’s recipients all the money granted under the current system. Seniors will continue to receive benefits without deduction.

“Lastly, the money raised for Social Security will not managed by an insipid Washington bureaucrat, but by the person who will live on it when he retires. The Congress and the president will work toward a bipartisan plan that will develop a pay-as-you-go Social Security plan that will secure the system while allowing American workers to begin building personal retirement accounts. It will serve the original purpose of the system, yet return to the people the ability to spend their own money, at their own discretion.”

Archived article by Katherine Davis