Journalist Grandson of Socialist Presidential Candidate Admits: 'We Can't Pay' for Welfare State Any More

Even liberal journalist and Politico contributor Evan Thomas has finally figured out that socialism is an unsustainable system, as he boldly proclaimed on this weekend’s syndicated Inside Washington “The welfare state is something we can’t pay for any more.” The admission by the one-time Newsweek managing editor and co-author of the infamous Feb. 16, 2009 cover story, “We Are All Socialists Now,” probably had his grandfather and six-time Socialist Party of America presidential candidate Norman Thomas, rolling over in his grave.

During a discussion about possible political perils for Barack Obama, on the April 20 edition of Inside Washington, Thomas cited “the specter of a European collapse,” and went on to warn: (video after the jump)

“The welfare state is something we can’t pay for any more. It’s demographics. We used to have five workers for every retired person. Now we have there. We’re soon gonna have two. Europe is even ahead of us on these demographics. We cannot afford the benefits we all got accustomed to. And the political system has not figured out how to adjust to that.”

This is quite a drastic 180 degree turn from Thomas who, along with Jon Meacham, just three years ago wrote the following in the aforementioned “We Are All Socialists” issue:

“If we fail to acknowledge the reality of the growing role of government in the economy, insisting instead on fighting 21st-century wars with 20th-century terms and tactics, then we are doomed to a fractious and unedifying debate. The sooner we understand where we truly stand, the sooner we can think more clearly about how to use government in today’s world....Whether we like it or not - or even whether many people have thought much about it or not - the numbers clearly suggest that we are headed in a more European direction.”

The following is the relevant exchange as it was aired on the April 20, 2012 edition of Inside Washington:

GORDON PETERSON: Many years ago I was interviewing the great Teddy White, author of The Making of the Presidents book and he congratulated me on my skill in asking the questions and then I asked him a question. He said, “That’s an amateur’s question.” He said the cardinal rule of politics is you can’t look around corners. So we’re talking about unknowns. You mentioned the, the European crisis. What are the other unknowns out there Evan?

EVAN THOMAS, POLITICO: Well the, just a month ago it looked like the big threat was gonna be Iran. That if Israel bombed Iran you could have a, you know, regional war and who knew what that would do to oil prices? And that could bring down Obama. But David Ignatius had an interesting column this week. It’s just a straw in the wind but David Ignatius is a pretty well-informed guy. That maybe there’s a deal in the works on Iran. I don’t know quite what’s in it, but something that would take that off the boils. So that Iran would not be the threat to the Obama administration.

But just as that was happening the word comes out of Europe that Spanish banks are in trouble. Spain is in a full-blown depression. And so, once again, the specter of a European collapse - I’m sure at the White House they’re plenty worried about that.

COLBY KING, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Europe has a big problem. The way in which those economies have been working. They, they are overspending. They haven’t adjusted the way they should have. And now they have to go through this painful, painful adjustment process. It’s not just Spain. Greece is not out of the woods. Italy is not out of the woods. Portugal is hanging in there.

THOMAS: It, it, it’s Western democracy. The welfare state is something we can’t pay for any more. It’s demographics. We used to have five workers for every retired person. Now we have three. We’re soon gonna have two. Europe is even ahead of us on these demographics. We cannot afford the benefits we all got accustomed to. And the political system has not figured out how to adjust to that.

NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: Well and they did have, in Europe, an even worse real estate bubble than we did. I mean people were building houses and getting loans-

PETERSON: Ireland!

TOTENBERG: -and I mean just for on a song. And in huge numbers. But, you know, this is something to worry about. And you - the Germans are the only secure ones. They are the ones funding the bailout, as it were. But they want austerity and only austerity. And there is a lot of tension between them and other parts of Europe in terms of not decimating their economies. And if you look at that New York Times poll this week and you see how precarious, how precariously most Americans feel they’re perched in terms of their economic future. We on this panel, we’re pretty comfortable. If gas goes up to $5 we complain but it doesn’t threaten our, our security. For most Americans or at least a substantial portion of Americans –  I think it’s 4 in 10, I think it’s something like that – that’s not true!

PETERSON: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: But the reason is not overbuilt housing. The reason is what Evan is talking about. The utterly inevitable and predictable results of an aging population and high technology. We live longer. At the time Social Security was instituted the, the, the life span, average life span was 62 years in the United States. It’s now about 80 years. And with high technology people end up living longer and it costs. We die of cancer and Alzheimer’s which are expensive and not heart attacks which are inexpensive. That is an inevitable fact. And the tragedy is that it’s happening in Europe before it’s gonna happen here. Because it’s a much more entitlement state. So it gives us a few years of leeway where we can do something, and we are not doing anything. And that’s why I think we have one chance, in probably the next three or four years, to actually change this. And it can be done. It’s not hard to do. Entitlement reform and tax reform. And we are utterly stuck and unable to do it on either side.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.