Comedian Chris Rock proposed that due to their shorter life spans black men should start receiving their Social Security benefits at age 35. He was only indulging in some “black humor” so to speak but apparently there is someone who agrees. His name is George W. Bush.

During “Black History Month,” the president made a historic statement: “African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the [Social Security] system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed.”

Yes, Bush is using the sad reality that black males have an average life span of 69 years, versus 75 for whites, to convince African-Americans to abandon Social Security for private retirement accounts. This is the most cynical response to a public health tragedy I’ve ever heard.

While he’s at it, Bush should urge African-Americans to choose home schooling over public education, because some black students are failing. Black leaders have called Bush’s appeal “disingenuous,” which I had to look up in the dictionary. It means, “giving a false appearance of simple frankness,” which has been the president’s trademark on this and other issues.

It’s not surprising that many black Americans aren’t buying the president’s premise.

In fact, any thinking person would ask: Hey, how about doing something about the shorter life span? Life expectancy is tied to nutrition, health care and housing. Yet, the president is making cuts in 150 domestic programs, which might promote longer lives for all Americans.

The president isn’t just balancing the budget and funding wars on the backs of middle-class and low-income Americans, he’s hell-bent on dismantling Social Security. He once said he didn’t care about his place in history,  but I think he really does care. He wants to destroy the legacy of the most progressive president of the last century.

As I recall from history class, Republicans tried to address the disaster of the Great Depression with their steadfast faith in the free market. But it took the innovative policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to put the country back to work and give senior citizens a guaranteed retirement fund.

To justify his attack on this retirement fund, Bush is using the same kind of alarmist and unfounded reasoning he used to justify our attack on Iraq.

Government officials say that Social Security will be solvent for the next forty years but Bush is crying like its collapse is right around the corner.

His counter-proposal, privatized stock market accounts, not only involves a financial risk but I think it’s un-American to stop paying into a pool that benefits others beside ourselves.

Getting back to the black and white of the issue: African-Americans actually benefit more than whites from Social Security, because a higher percentage of them receive disability and survivor’s benefits.

As for white people, my wife and I were calculating the retirement benefits we’re going to receive from Social Security.

It’s not a lot but the idea  sounded like a good deal. And, in case Bush has more ideas about “Republicanizing” the republic, I was just kidding about the home schooling.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.