Don't use FDR to undermine Social Security

By James Roosevelt Jr.

Social Security.


IN HIS inaugural address, President George W. Bush invoked the name of my grandfather, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security. Similarly, a political organization supporting that drastic change recently ran a television commercial using a newsreel clip showing President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act into law. The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.

President Roosevelt founded Social Security for very basic but important reasons. He believed that the only enemy that could ever defeat the United States was fear itself. He and my grandmother, Eleanor, looked at America and found fear of want – particularly after retirement or loss of a parent. Today, thanks in large part to Social Security, the number of older Americans below the poverty line has dropped from almost 50 percent to only 8 percent.

FDR believed that Social Security should be simple, guaranteed, fair, earned, and available to all Americans. President Roosevelt was adamant that Social Security was an insurance program to provide basic needs in retirement.

As a former Wall Street lawyer, my grandfather fully supported the opportunity of every American to have fair investment opportunities. But Social Security was – and is – something different. It was – and is – the guaranteed basis of a secure retirement. The risk is that future retired Americans will lose that assurance if the guaranteed benefit is eliminated. Drastic changes that divert the payroll tax to privatization will almost certainly eliminate that guaranteed benefit by crippling the ability to pay benefits, imposing trillions of dollars of new costs on the government and creating massive federal debt. Privatization threatens to bring about the collapse of the entire Social Security system.