Sam Says: 'Young Voters, Get Mad'

I'm a "young voter"--as are many of Stumper's most avid readers. So I thought it'd be worthwhile to direct your attention to the latest opus from NEWSWEEK's brilliant financial columnist Robert Samuelson: a cogent, impassioned explanation for why those of us under 35 should forget about "hope" and "change" and start demanding that the next president overhaul government retirement programs. Sam may not be young--but he's right. Listen up, kiddies:

To: Voters Under 35
Subject: Your Future
Recommendation: Get Angry

You're being played for chumps. Barack Obama and John McCain want your votes, but they're ignoring your interests. You face a heavily mortgaged future. You'll pay Social Security and Medicare for aging baby boomers. The needed federal tax increase might total 50 percent over the next 25 years. Pension and health costs for state and local workers have doubtlessly been underestimated. There's the expense of decaying infrastructure—roads, bridges, water pipes. All this will squeeze other crucial government services: education, defense, police.

You're not hearing much of this in the campaign. One reason, frankly, is that you don't seem to care. Obama's your favorite candidate (by 64 percent to 33 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds, according to the latest Post-ABC News poll). But he's outsourced his position on these issues to AARP, the 40 million-member group for Americans 50 and over.

Don't believe me? Go to the Web site, On Sept. 6, both Obama and McCain addressed an AARP convention celebrating the group's 50th birthday.

Click on the Obama video. You'll see some world-class pandering. There are three basic ways of reducing the costs of Social Security and Medicare: increase eligibility ages; trim benefits; and require recipients to pay more for their Medicare benefits (higher premiums, co-payments or deductibles). In his talk, Obama effectively rejected all three.

Or look at the September-October issue of AARP the Magazine, which has a "voters' guide." In it, Obama and McCain receive the opportunity to check boxes agreeing or disagreeing with AARP's positions on 11 issues. Obama checked agreement on 10. He's not an agent of change but a staunch defender of the status quo. Indeed, he would expand subsidies to the elderly by exempting from federal income taxes anyone 65 and over with $50,000 income or less.

McCain pandered, too. In his video, he praised AARP effusively. He didn't mention benefit cuts. But he hedged. He said today's system is "broken" and shouldn't be inflicted on future generations. In the voters' guide, he didn't check "agree" or "disagree" but merely described his positions. The hint is that, as president, he might try to curb retirement spending. There's a precedent; McCain voted against the Medicare drug benefit.

I am 62. Most of my friends are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. I wish everyone a pleasurable retirement. But we need to overhaul our government retirement programs for the common good and not just the good of the elderly. We have already waited so long that there's no way to do this without being unfair to someone—overburdening the young or withdrawing promised benefits from older Americans. The present financial crisis, by reducing retirement savings, has made a hard job even harder. Still, these federal programs began as safety nets for the needy; now they've become subsidies for living long, regardless of need.