The Social Security system has been mired in controversy from the time it was first proposed to the present day. The opposition and criticism has ranged from the most abstract academic discussion of its constitutionality to the most shrill and absurd proclamations about it being a step to Soviet-style Bolshevism.
Social Security is unique in that it has been constantly attacked from all sides and has still remained popular with most American's.
Opposition from the right-wing of the American political spectrum has always revolved around two points: the interests of big business and populist opposition to the federal government in general.
Big business opposed Social Security because it imposed new taxes, new bookkeeping requirements and undermined the absolute dependence of the employees on the company. The populist opposition stems from the larger issue of state's rights that has been a constant theme in American politics since before the nation was even founded. The state's rights position is essentially that the individual states should have much more power and the federal government should be extremely limited.
Social security was obviously an enormous expansion of federal power and involvement throughout the country and as such was opposed by the state's rights advocates.
From the left-wing, the opposition first focused on the overtly discriminatory aspects of Social Security. As these concerns were steadily addressed, the criticism from the left tended to argue that Social Security was not doing enough and that it should be greatly expanded.
The original Social Security Act of 1935 reflected its time and focused most of its benefits on white men. The measures taken for women were predicated on the woman being unemployed and many benefits could only be received through male relatives. African-American's, Native-American's, and other national minorities were almost completely excluded at first.
Later, after these discriminatory measures were resolved, the emphasis changed to doing more. This includes measures to increase general benefits to efforts to get new medical conditions and subgroups of people included on the list of those that can receive benefits.
Opposition has also come from strictly pragmatic sources that are responding to their immediate self-interest as opposed to being led by political or ideological convictions. For example, prior to 1956 when the Disability Program was signed into law, the private insurance industry - that had a monopoly on disability insurance - campaigned and lobbied extensively against not just this measure, but the entire system. A more recent example was the Republican attempt to privatize SSA by transferring the funds held by the government to Wall Street investment firms. In order to justify this, it was necessary to demonize the government's administration of the funds. As this would have represented a massive windfall for the investment firms, they financed a massive national campaign portraying the Social Security Administration as inept, incompetent, and ineffective. The effort failed, but represented a pragmatic attack on Social Security by the investment firms as opposed to an ideologically driven one.
Social Security is, and always has been, a "hot-button" issue for many in the United States. The issue has always been surrounded by arguments, lawsuits, propaganda, and appeals to the public to demand change in one way or another. Many of these controversies have resulted in changes to the original system. In this series we will look at many of the controversies that have been simulated by the Social Security system and how they were resolved.