I realize Paul O'Neill has become a sort of hero among some centrist Democrats simply because he is a Republican who is not simultaneously a Bush toady. However, this kind of argument should most definitely not be taken up by Dems when the Social Security fight starts getting nasty.
The problem with the current arrangement is that our contributions are a tax, not savings. So we should begin by agreeing that we are going to require all Americans to save, individually, to provide for their financial security in old age. After all, if we don't save on our own for our retirement needs, who will do it for us? Our neighbors? Our children? In a civilized society we have a responsibility to take care of our own needs so as not to be a burden on others.When you start talking about human beings who aren't earning an income in the market as "a burden on others," you've already lost the "civilized society" argument.
I've said before that the Dems need a strong moral argument in favor of Social Security. That moral argument rests upon social solidarity across the generations. For God's sake, that even a conservative argument -- at least it was back when there were such people in the United States before "conservative" became the label for nut-job libertarians, yahoo imperialists and money-grubbing ladder-climbers. Put the argument in the context of what we owe one another as members of the same society. We don't owe the aged an "opportunity," we owe them a safety net and a minimum guaranteed standard of living -- period.
The Los Angeles Times and now the Washington Post are getting in on a big story of the last thirty years -- the massive transfer of economic risk from capital to labor. Why can't the Dems use this stuff?? The vast majority of people don't want more risk for more "opportunity" -- the research shows it.
Here's my one-two punch: hit 'em with the conservative moral argument about generational solidarity, and then scare the hell out of everybody with Bush's plans to destroy Social Security ("if you liked what Bush did to Iraq, you'll love what he'll do to your retirement . . .").