WALLACE (1/16/05): Let's turn if we can to another big issue, maybe the top of your legislative agenda on the domestic front: Social Security. The president keeps saying that there is a crisis, that if there is no change the system will go broke by 2042. Let's look.Yes—as a simple matter of fact, that was wrong, or at best it was grossly misleading. And Bush misled average voters (even high school kids!) with claims like this all week long. But only on Fox were his misstatements challenged. Indeed, when Bartlett started the Russert Oration, Wallace quickly challenged that too:
BUSH (videotape): 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.
WALLACE: As a simple fact, isn't that wrong?
BARTLETT (continuing directly): Absolutely not! And the bottom line is—the fact of the matter is that when you take the Social Security system as it is, this is a mathematical issue, not an ideological issue. In 1950, there were about 16 workers—Bartlett tried to give an irrelevant speech with old numbers—the scary speech Russert recites in his sleep. But omigod! Chris Wallace interrupted!! The system wont be broke, he said, contradicting a generation of spin. And poor Bartlett! As he tried to argue his line, Wallaces viewers found themselves treated to a small chunk of the truth:
WALLACE: Let me just interrupt, because I know the fact that there were 14 workers for every person when it was first— The fact is that in 2042, if you did absolutely nothing to the system, it wouldn't be broke. It wouldn't be bankrupt. In fact, there would be a problem, but you would be able to still pay about three-quarters of everybody's guaranteed benefits.
BARTLETT (continuing directly): But what youre talking about—in 2018 we go into the red. In 2042, you start actually bankrupting the system, which you're having to get funds elsewhere. You're right, the payroll taxes at that moment could pay about 70 percent of the benefits.Yes, thats only a start on the press corps job of informing a nation of disinformed people. But after a week of wild misstatements, you had to turn to Fox to hear it! Elsewhere, Russert and Blitzer put their feet up and died. On Nantucket, tycoons stuff wads of cash in your jeans for engaging in such pleasing conduct.
WALLACE: But that isn't bankrupt.
BARTLETT: Well, it's absolutely bankrupt, because you're absolutely in the red, and you're having to take dollars from elsewhere. And that problem only continues to get worse.
Yes, only Wallace did the obvious, challenging Bushs potent misstatements. Indeed, over at the liberal networks, millionaire paper boys knew not to go there. At NBC, David Gregory (pet name: Stretch) scored a pre-inaugural interview with Bush. The session aired last night on Hardball. But those wild misstatements by Bush? Gregory knew not to challenge them:
GREGORY (1/17/05): Let me ask you about Social Security. You said this past week, speaking to younger workers, that they have to imagine a system that is flat-bust, your words. Democrats call that a scare tactic.According to Gregory, Democrats criticize Bushs statements. But he himself didnt challenge the things Bush had said, or try to explain why those Democrats do. Instead, he jumped to a different question. On Fox, Wallace challenged those statements by Bush. At NBC, Gregory kept quiet.
GREGORY: And I would like to ask you this. Why is there nothing short of the creation of private savings accounts that could shore up the program, that could keep it solvent?
How defeated are the big liberal networks? When George Bush made his wild misstatements, only Fox was willing to challenge! At NBC, it was Tool Time again. For the record, his pet name is Stretch.
READ IT ALL: Click here for a transcript of the Gregory session as it aired on Hardball. A shortened version of the interview appeared on last nights NBC Nightly News. The transcript posted for that show reveals no sign of the extensive deletions. That would involve use of punctuation, which is over the press corps heads.
TOMORROW: Peter Jennings gets it right! But at CBS, Roberts still panders.
ANALYZE THIS: How dense are Americas reigning elites? Read this mornings Times op-ed page for a glimpse of this staggering problem. Start with hapless Errol Morris discussing the past Bush campaign:
MORRIS (11/18/05): And then there was the president. Though George W. Bush's military record was arguably less impressive than [Kerry's], the Republicans never misrepresented who he was. Mr. Bush never pretended to be a war hero. He never pretended to be anything but a ne'er-do-well who turned his life around when he became a born-again Christian. His life story made sense; it was recognizable and easy to understand. There was no point in attacking him about his war record (or lack of one): he had already conceded the point. He had never claimed to be a hero. John Kerry had.How easy to understand was Bushs life story? This easy—Morris can still recite the campaigns preferred version! But is it true? Is George Bush nothing but a ne'er-do-well who turned his life around when he became a born-again Christian? Although Morris plainly understands the fact that this was the Bush camps preferred story-line, it doesnt seem to have crossed his mind that this story—chosen by the campaign—may not be perfectly accurate. In fact, the Bush campaign offered this story in 1999 because it was preferable to other story-lines, such as this one: Bush is a privileged son of power who nonetheless carries burning resentments against elites by whom he feels wronged. And it was preferable to this story-line, suggested by Michael Linds Made in Texas: Bush is a privileged heir of Texas political traditions in which upper-class elites exercise untrammeled power over their lessers. But alas! Errol Morris is such a rube that, even to this very day, it doesnt seem to cross his mind that the Official Line of the Bush campaign may be a cover for something less pleasing. Is it true? Did people really grasp who he was? Morris recites Bushs own story-line, then insists that it must be on-target. How dense are Americas academic elites? Gaze on Morris in stupefaction. (By the way, Morris piece appears in the Times because hes a favorite among New York liberals. In todays Gotham, work like this makes you a very wise man.)
Mr. Bush portrayed himself as a controversial but candid incumbent. In accepting his party's nomination, he said: ''In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand.'' This was the cornerstone of his approach. And it worked. People grasped who he was, even when they disagreed with his policies.
But then, for another peek at our addled elites, read the piece by Joshua Freedman, a UCLA psychiatry honcho. No, Freedman doesnt recite cant from the Bush campaign (although his column plainly suggests that Bush is really part of the mainstream). But his analysis of American political attitudes is a piece of work unto itself. After scanning the brains of twenty Americans—and yes, you read that n correctly—Freedman finds that even the fiercest partisans may instinctively like both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry. Soon, he offers an odd account of the way the voters reason:
FREEDMAN (1/18/05): In the case of this past election, while we witnessed an electorate that seemed irreconcilably divided, using f.M.R.I., we could see that the Republicans and Democrats we tested liked both candidates. The initial reflex toward allegiance is easy to explain: people rise through the ranks to run for higher office because they are able to evoke in others a powerful impulse to join their cause. Voters sense this attraction, and to keep from succumbing, they dredge up emotion-laden negative images as a counterweight.In short, most major pols are attractive people; voters are therefore inclined to like them. But heres what happens next, dear friends: Voters sometimes examine the records of these people, and they sometimes decide that the reality is different from the pleasing surface. Weirdly, Freedman describes this sensible process as dredg[ing] up emotion-laden negative images as a counterweight to our initial response. How inane are todays elites? To Freedman, when voters engage in this sensible process, it somehow shows that they arent really driven by the issues. It somehow shows that theyre conning themselves:
MORRIS (continuing directly): This suggests that the passions swirling through elections are not driven by a deep commitment to issues. We are not fighting over the future of the country; we are fighting for our team, like Red Sox and Yankee fans arguing over which club has the better catcher. Both in an election and in baseball, all that really matters is who wears the team uniform.Heaven forbid—that neuroscience reaches the point where Freedman can analyze further.
Will an awareness that we are conning ourselves to feel alienated from each other help to close the political gap? It is unknown, because neuroscience has advanced only recently to the point where humans can begin to watch themselves think and feel. If we are going to solve the nation's complicated problems, it is important to close this gap...
How inane are modern elites? Morris performs like a world-class rube, but hes consider a seer at High Gotham Tables. Meanwhile, Freedmans analysis is simply bizarre. But at the Times, our greatest newspaper, these presentations seemed to make sense. Please dont fail to understand: In this challenging age of post-affluence culture, our elites are dumber than ever before. In a world which counts these two as savants, are you surprised when their lessers—the Elisabeth Bumillers—cant explain Social Security?
THE FOG OF WAR: Lets not miss the larger point about Morris. In 1999, the Bush campaign put out a line about Bushs life—a story-line Morris, a liberal, is still reciting. But duh! The Bush campaign put out this line because it was helpful to Bush! Despite that, the liberal press corps adopted it faithfully, reciting it all through the 2000 race. Even today, Morris recites the preferred story-line as if it were high, revealed truth.
To state the obvious, other lines about Bushs life story would have had higher predictive value. But the liberal press corps was handed this line, and Morris still yodels it today.
But what else happened during Campaign 2000? Even as the liberal press recited this story-line about Bush, they recited all negative lines about Gore. Al Gore was delusional—had a problem with the truth! Al Gore didnt know who he was! Al Gore had been raised from Day One to be president! Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel! Of course, despite this weird conduct during Campaign 2000, the mainstream press still pretends theres merit in the claim that theyre driven by a vast liberal bias. Its discussed every evening on cable.
By the way, even on the liberal web, its hard to find people who want to discuss what happened during Campaign 2000. Most Americans have never heard that Gore was trashed by the mainstream press. There is no chance that theyll understand their world until theyre given such basic information. But for reasons weve given up trying to explain, even many of those brilliant liberal bloggers dont like to walk that terrain. Meanwhile, Gregory can be a tool all he likes. His name wont get trashed on the web.
Readers, our modern elites are deeply addled, victims of vapid post-affluence life-styles. But even on the liberal web, many big bloggers just dont like to go there. Weve given up trying to explain why that is. But Reps will rule while this persists, and well say more about it this week.