Don’t Ignore the Prophets’ Call

[Ed. note: This post by Rev. Romal J. Tune is the first of a new series on featuring a diverse array of progressive religious voices.]

As an African American male and a well educated ordained Baptist Preacher, I have been appalled at the way President Bush has been promoting his Social Security plan. As Americans, we believe that Social Security embodies a basic democratic principle — that government should act to promote the common good. As a minister, I believe it also responds to the prophets’ call for nations to care for widows and the poor. Social Security has protected millions of elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged Americans from dire poverty for 70 years. This is an honorable commitment, and a proven program. African Americans rely on Social Security in their retirement years more than most other Americans. That is just one reason we find so troubling — in fact, deeply offensive — the suggestion by President Bush and his allies that African Americans should support his privatization plan because we African Americans die too soon to fully benefit from Social Security. Social Security privatization would hurt — not help — African Americans — be they poor, middle-class, or wealthy. Social Security has provided critical support to African American families for decades. It has kept the poverty rate among elderly African Americans to less than half of what it otherwise would be. And more than two-thirds of disabled African Americans are kept out of poverty by Social Security’s disability insurance. Indeed, Social Security is one of the rare programs that compensate for the racial inequities in the labor market; African Americans actually receive a higher rate of return from Social Security than whites. Privatization would undermine all this — all for a flimsy promise that does not hold up under any reasonable scrutiny. I would rather hear President Bush address the reasons for disparities in life expectancy, not exploit them for political gain. In fact, the massive debt that the President’s privatization plan would create — on top of the trillions in debt created by his massive tax cuts for the wealthy in the middle of an expensive war — will make it impossible for the government to address some of those reasons, like inadequate access to health care.  Mr. President, it is not honorable to hide the true costs of your proposal behind numbers that don’t add up. It is not honorable to disguise the real risks of your plan to young Americans’ future opportunities. It is not honorable to try to enlist African Americans in the cause of dismantling the often fragile economic security that Social Security provides so many of our families.  And I do not believe that it is honorable to undermine the community values represented by Social Security with an appeal to an “every man for himself” philosophy. My church teaches that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbors as ourselves. My Constitution proclaims that the American government was created to promote justice and the common welfare. But my President says, “It’s your money.”  Yes, Mr. President, but it is also our country, our families, our communities. That’s where we will make our stand.

— Rev. Romal J. Tune