January 18, 2016
President Obama called for strengthening Social Security in his 2016 State of the Union address. In choosing the verb “strengthen,” he dodged taking a position within the Democratic Party’s increasingly central debate over expansion of Social Security. Had he chosen “expand” rather than “strengthen,” he would have sided with Bernie Sanders and other progressives. By stopping short of expand with strengthen, he placed himself either with Hillary Clinton’s hedging of the issue or in a state of ambiguity. One can be sure that his speechwriters, vetters, and he chose the word carefully.
This was not just semantic quibbling over election-time rhetoric. Behind it lies a fight in the Democratic Party mirrored in the Hillary vs. Bernie primary race over whether to continue to compromise with Republican regressive domestic policies or to return forcefully to the New Deal legacy of which building on the success of Social Security is key. What to do with Social Security—to trim it back or build it up more–is one of the litmus tests that divide the progressive from the corporate wings of the party. Strengthen and expand in these contexts are code words for the politics of Social Security.
To continue reading, click Strengthen or Expand Social Security?