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The Democratic party feels out to lunch. Wishy washy. Uninspiring.

However, the Republicans are absolutely bonkers. Their latest “gift” to Americans is tax legislation giving permanent breaks to the wealthiest people and temporary breaks to the vast majority of Americans. Those proudly prudent balance-the-budget legislators okayed a $1.5 trillion addition to the deficit.

The election of Doug Jones in Alabama is supposedly a good sign. A guy who essentially was kicked out twice as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court only lost the race for the U.S. Senate because he’s a perv. If it takes running against a Roy Moore for the Dems to win a state, we are on the road to (greater) disaster.

The Democrats have it wrong at the big-picture level and they have it wrong at the strategy level. If they want to rally support, they should stick with a single theme of panic. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are at stake. The sky is falling!

Where does “Stupid” (in the headline) come into the discussion? It dates back to James Carville’s mantra during Bill Clinton’s successful run for the presidency in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Let’s start with the big picture

The Republicans push some crazy idea that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are bad because they are “entitlements.”

Damn right they are.

We are entitled to these benefits. We’ve paid in and we are entitled to collect when eligible.

It’s not an issue of laziness or greed or being UN-entitled.

It’s a promise among the generations. Everyone pays in; everyone collects when and if their time comes.

The Democrats should stand on this loud and clear.

The Republicans imply that everyone should be self-sufficient in saving for retirement. Anyone who can’t go it alone should be ashamed.

For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to work, we must guarantee all three to younger workers who are now paying into the system. It’s crazy that those who are grandfathered in or almost grandfathered should claim benefits while denying the same security to younger payers.

Especially when these younger payers have less job security, huge college loans, very likely no pensions, and almost no unionization. Jeez…. It defies reason.

There used to be a thing called the three-legged retirement stool

Traditional retirement planning is based on a three-legged stool: Social Security, defined-benefit private pensions, and personal savings including 401ks. That model is pretty much disappearing from retirement planning.

It’s not because it’s an unsound model. It’s because the last two legs are so wobbly and Social Security isn’t a sure thing either.

We assume that all three are going to disappear or at least diminish substantially, and no one is shouting out in their long-term defense.

The Republicans claim the systems are not financially viable in the long-term . . . but they are OK adding to the national debt for tax breaks.

Pensions are disappearing in favor of 401ks and other defined-contribution plans, which means more financial risk for employees.

As a former corporate financial writer, I used to write about mutual funds in 401ks. We harped on the point that employees, especially younger ones, must take more risk to meet long-term financial goals. We also recommended that employees not take on more risk than they are comfortable with.

Research shows that many investors are very uncomfortable with risk, and the Great Recession less than a decade ago freshened our discomfort with risk.

See the contradiction? People need more help with financial risk, not governmental abandonment.

In addition, when employees are laid off en masse or individually (which can be for almost any reason at all), they draw down these retirement funds. It can take quite awhile to get another job and meanwhile, assets keep dwindling.

Now back again to that Social Security leg, which Paul Ryan and others are hot to amputate.

They may try again to “fix” it. One obvious “adjustment” is to raise the usual retirement age by a year or two. Looks perfectly reasonable from an actuarial standpoint but misses the prevalence of age discrimination. In practice, it’s rare to land a new job that pays as well as the previous one after a certain age. So if you find yourself unemployed in your early 60s, good luck getting another job as good as your last one.

How much personal savings are enough to assure a secure retirement?

If people are not so lazy and irresponsible as to claim some “entitlement” that they should not be entitled to, how much should they have set aside?

Who knows?

Let’s say that $1 million sounds pretty good. Ah, to be a millionaire.

Considering that prudent people are probably estimating they will die in their nineties but become unemployed in their sixties, that sounds at first like a reasonable figure to assure a modest but not luxurious life.

Actually, very few people put away that figure during their career, and many people who were en route to significant nest eggs got waylaid by career woes and investment / housing market financial setbacks along the way.

So a million bucks sounds like a lot of money but it’s not all that much to carry you through 30 years. Furthermore, many responsible people can’t amass that much.

Where are the Democrats on this?

They have been tricked into impotence by the crafty way that Republicans manage the legislative process to appear disorganized but in reality push bills through with minimal public awareness of what’s in them.

Insufficient time and debate to examine legislation, deals and tinkering to the last minute, a mess of detail on a complex issue (in this case, taxation) with hurried, last-minute analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and interested parties.

The Dems allow themselves to get distracted by a raft of issues, some big, some small, and some highly specialized, while the Republicans invent a crisis around artificial deadlines, as though screwing the vast majority of the American public is more of an achievement if it takes place in 2017.

Dems should stick to the knitting. The knitting is Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. (Also probably healthcare.)

They may seem boring, but these are of the utmost importance to the vast majority of voters. All Representatives and Senators who voted Republican may as well have their votes tattooed on their foreheads by the Dems for the rest of their political careers.

These issues are sure winners. Even Donald Trump promised not to muck around with SS. Would he have been elected if he had endorsed change? Hell no.

Can such a sure-fire winning Democrat strategy be screwed up?

Yes, of course. The Democrats merely have to veer to the far left and start babbling about Socialism, or even Democratic Socialism. Freak out middle of the roaders.

Instead, Dems should handcuff Republican incumbents to their out-of-touch votes and claim the middle ground in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Campaign for any progressive program they wish but ban the feared S-word from their vocabularies.

After all, Republicans already in office have moved so far to the right that they will have to shake the repositioning Etch-a-Sketch and jeopardize big-donor campaign contributions to claim the middle ground.

A reasonable forecast

I believe that the Democrats can claim every single seat in the House of Representatives and the third of the Senate seats that are up for votes in upcoming elections.

Well, perhaps not every district and state.

But they should be able to take those in which there are substantial populations who are older, or who are getting older, or who are disabled, or who fear they may someday become disabled, or have older or disabled family members they may need to support financially if government programs fall apart.

This may be just enough votes.

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