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Daily Howler: How will major pundits respond to yesterday’s lies by George Bush?
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KING OF THE LIARS—GEORGE BUSH: How will major pundits respond to yesterday’s lies by George Bush? // link // print // previous // next //

KING OF THE LIARS—GEORGE BUSH: Has there ever been a bald-faced liar to match George W. Bush? At yesterday’s forum on Social Security, the president told a series of dumb, stupid jokes for an audience of perfectly decent Americans. And then he lied right in their faces. Incredibly, their president told them this:
BUSH (1/11/05): As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.

And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt.

“As a matter of fact,” Bush said, without irony, before he offered these bald-faced lies to the decent folks watching him speak.

What is wrong with Bush’s statement? Workers who are in their mid-20s will, by and large, begin to retire shortly after the year 2040. And will Social Security be “bankrupt—flat bust,” as their joke-cracking president said? Sorry. According to the CBO, the system will still pay full scheduled benefits until the year 2052. After that, will SS be “flat bust?” No, it will not, as Bush knows. After 2052, the system will be able to pay 81 percent of scheduled benefits. Even adjusted for inflation, those benefits will be far more than SS recipients are getting today.

Understand: If no changes are made to the system, recipients will get substantially more in 2052 than recipients are getting today! But incredibly, your lying president tells decent citizens that the system will instead be “flat bust!” And by the way: Even according to the pessimistic forecasts of the SS trustees, the system won’t be “bankrupt, flat bust” when young workers start to retire. According to the trustees’ gloomy projections, the system will pay full benefits until 2042. It will then pay 73 percent of scheduled benefits, more than recipients get today.

No, Social Security won’t be “flat bust”—or anything like it—when young workers start to retire. But George Bush lies the way other men breathe. Soon, he even had the gall to tell his audience this:

BUSH: Most younger people in America think they'll never see a dime. Probably an exaggeration to a certain extent. But a lot of people who are young, who understand how Social Security works, really do wonder whether they'll see anything.
Incredible! Because uninformed people “wonder” about something, Bush repeats it as if it’s a fact. Will younger people “never see a dime?” This is probably an exaggeration, to a certain extent, George Bush says. If anyone doubted, you see it there—George Bush lies the way others take air. Why does Congress allow such a man to remain in his great public office?

But let’s put that question for Congress aside. More important for this web site’s concerns: How will the weak-kneed Washington “press corps” respond to this bath of public lying? Will pundits have the courage to stand and tell the public what their “leader” has done? Or will they run and hide behind desks, as they have done for the past five years? Will they still be the store-bought cowards who have allowed this situation to develop?

George Bush, a gut-bucket liar, has lied to the public for the past five years. But so what? Timid, store-bought, thigh-rubbing pundits have stared into air as the lying has grown. Tomorrow, we’ll start to look at the press corps’ accounts of Bush’s astounding remarks on SS. But the time has finally come to insist that Big Major Pundits stand up and speak. Five years ago, the press corps pretended to be upset by ginned-up “lies” from Candidate Gore. Now, a president lies right in their faces, about the day’s most pressing issue. It’s time for the press corps’ conclave of cowards to be battered about their group silence.

What we would have discussed yesterday

THIS JUST IN—FROM MARS: We’ve often said it—they can’t be human. And alas! Such thoughts crossed our minds once again on Tuesday morning as we read the front page of the Washington Post. Jim VandeHei reported on GOP congressmen who oppose Bush’s push for those private accounts. Here’s the passage that made us suspect, for the ten thousandth time, that our scribes come from far, distant planets:

VANDEHEI (1/11/05): "The politics of this are brutal," one senior GOP leadership aide said, adding that the White House has yet to convince most House members that the "third rail" of American politics is somehow safe.

Outside Congress, several party activists are sounding similar alarms after word spread last week that Bush is planning to reduce future benefits as part of the restructuring. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is warning that Republicans could lose their 10-year House majority if the White House follows through with that proposal.

Incredible! According to VandeHei’s report, word began to spread “last week” that Bush would reduce future SS benefits. And VandeHei is hardly alone in making this odd presentation. In recent weeks, many journalists have seemed surprised by the “news” that Bush would reduce future benefits. Example: On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace posed this odd question to Senator Lindsey Graham:
WALLACE (12/12/04): Senator Graham, let me ask you about one aspect of these private retirement accounts that seemed to come out this week. If a worker decides to put some of his payroll taxes into this private account, does that mean that he would be giving up some of his guaranteed government benefits?
Weirdly, Wallace seems to have learned just last month that SS recipients would have to give up some of their guaranteed benefits.

Why are these presentations so strange? Simple. It has been perfectly clear since Campaign 2000 that Bush’s plan for private accounts would mean large cuts in guaranteed benefits. In the future, SS benefits will cost more than payroll taxes will provide, Bush said during Campaign 2K, citing standard budget analyses which he then interpreted wildly. “If we do nothing to reform the system, the year 2037 will be the moment of financial collapse,” the hopeful excitedly said. But what would Bush do to “reform the system?” He ruled out raising payroll taxes; indeed, he proposed diverting a large chunk of payroll taxes into his so-called “private accounts.” Under Bush’s plan, therefore, a good deal less revenue would flow into traditional SS. Obviously, it would take large cuts in guaranteed benefits to close the future revenue shortfalls—shortfalls which the hopeful decried as “Social Security’s greatest test.”

According to fanciful promises by Bush, revenue from workers’ private accounts would more than replace the lost guaranteed benefits. But whatever one thinks of Bush’s ideas, it has always been clear that his SS plan would involve large cuts in guaranteed benefits. When VandeHei discovered this fact last week, he might as well have been typing from Mars. Ditto Wallace, who seemed surprised to learn of this matter last month.

How can major scribes be so clueless? If Wallace and VandeHei aren’t simply faking, their ignorance may stem from the press corps’ refusal to cover this issue during Campaign 2000. During that campaign, the Washington press praised Bush to the skies for his “bold leadership” regarding SS. The press corps was trying to defeat hated Gore, and this was simply one more way the fast-acting lynch mob could do it.

So how did the press corps cover SS? As part of their group misconduct, they let Bush recite misleading claims about the Big Bucks to be gained from those private accounts, and they almost never discussed how large the corresponding benefit cuts would be. And, as part of this standard gong-show approach, they avoided describing plans for private accounts that had already been offered in Congress. Voters were spared the unpleasant truth—that all such plans involve benefit cuts. Today, VandeHei seems surprised to learn that this will be part of Bush’s forthcoming proposal.

Duh! How obvious was it, during Campaign 2000, that these plans involve large benefit cuts? On October 26, 2000, the Chicago Tribune’s William Neikirk penned one of the only articles which examined the actual plans before Congress. One such plan came from GOP honcho John Kasich. And guess what? It involved giant cuts!

NEIKIRK (10/26/00): “The Bush plan cannot work as he has suggested it would work,” said [Gore adviser Alan] Blinder, who co-authored a study for the Century Foundation claiming the governor's plan would require cuts of more than 50 percent in Social Security benefits for younger workers.

Some Republicans who claim that privatization will work are more up front about the need for benefit cuts. Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) has introduced a plan similar to Bush's that would reduce the Social Security benefits of future retirees by a total of about 45 percent.

Duh! According to Neikirk, Kasich was being more honest than Bush. And guess what! Kasich’s plan was going to cut future benefits in half! But you know the way your “press corps” works. The same sort of future benefit cuts blind-sided Wallace last month.

Whatever one thinks of Bush’s proposal, it has always been clear that his forthcoming plan would involve large cuts in guaranteed benefits. But the “press corps” struggled to bury that fact during its fraudulent Campaign 2000. Result? VandeHei got the news last week, and the truth only dawned on Wallace last month. So it goes in the bath of ignorance we describe as a “national discourse.”

PREDICTABLE, THEREFORE SUPPRESSED: During Campaign 2000, why wasn’t the public told about those future benefit cuts? Duh. In a fine report in the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler laid out what was merely obvious:

KESSLER (9/28/00): The actuary's report on the Kasich plan illustrates the conundrum that Bush faces as he touts what would be a far-reaching reform of a highly popular program that remains the core of the U.S. retirement system. Bush and his aides say action must be taken now to head off the anticipated insolvency of the Social Security trust fund in three decades. But a recent poll by AARP, the lobbying group for retirees, found that support for individual accounts dropped by half if it meant a reduction in guaranteed benefits.
Duh! Support for private accounts dropped by half if people were told about benefit cuts. That’s why Bush never said Boo about them—and that’s why the press corps, conducting its twenty-month scam, knew not to mention them either. Just last month, hapless Chris Wallace finally was given the word.

And yes—this is the way the Washington “press corps” conducted its coverage of Campaign 2000. Clinton’s man, Gore, had to be defeated. Scripted scribes took it from there.

SILENCE ALL AROUND: Neikirk and Kessler reported on the privatization plans before Congress (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/02). But, using search terms like “Kasich AND Social Security,” we have never found another piece that reported on these basic proposals. Result? To this day, citizens—and journalists—are utterly clueless about the basic shape of these programs. Even today, scribes are surprised to learn that benefits cuts will be part of King Bush’s Big Plan.