NEW YORK TIMES (2/18/05): As the nation's top banker, Mr. Greenspan was on surer ground when discussing the borrowing needed to establish private accounts—an estimated $2 trillion over 10 years, and $4.5 trillion over two decades. He said it would be a risky thing to do.There! Readers will make an obvious assumption—transition costs will top out somewhere near $4.5 trillion. But for the third time in recent weeks, lets recall what Paul Krugman wrote in the Times just last month:
KRUGMAN (1/11/05): Advocates of privatization almost always pretend that all we have to do is borrow a bit of money up front, and then the system will become self-sustaining. The Wehner memo talks of borrowing $1 trillion to $2 trillion ''to cover transition costs.'' Similar numbers have been widely reported in the news media.But that's just the borrowing over the next decade. Privatization would cost an additional $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in extra debt.Uh-oh! According to Krugman, transition costs will actually run around $15 trillion in the next four decades! These numbers are based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the erudite Times scribe quickly said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/05).
So which is it? Will transition costs be $4.5 trillion over two decades or $15 trillion over four? Most likely, both figures are generally accurate, with the Times simply using a shorter time frame, the way the Bush Admin likes; this produces a less-troubling number, a number which keeps the eds from getting pummeled as liberal ideologues, even when they are only seeking the facts. After all, the long-term transition to private accounts will not be completed in two decades—so why should transition costs end at that point? Well guess that Krugmans CBO account is essentially right, and that the Times is just being polite, a trait of so many modern scribes.
By the way, this would be an excellent point for the boys and girls of the liberal web to pursue. Speaking of magical transformations, we note that they stopped discussing private accounts vs. personal accounts after Daddy told them it was pointless; now, well suggest that the size of those transition costs could help win the privatization debate. Recent polling made it clear—support for Bushs plan drops fast when transition costs are described (many citizens know nothing about them). And readers, which number would drive support down faster? Fifteen trillion dollars—or four?
No, they dont have to say where they heard it; they can pretend that they got it themselves. But if the transition will cost $15 trillion, the public should hear it shouted out every day. And bloggers, dont wait for those Big Dems to say it! Trust us: Youll be old and wise, with a pretty white beard, before that glorious day ever comes. As weve noted, Major Dems persistently use the budget numbers that favor Bush. If we want a sharper line to emerge, it will have to emerge from the web.
HERES TO HIM, MR. ROBINSON: To all appearances, Gene Robinson thinks hes a liberal. In fact, in a column in this mornings Post—his sixth since becoming a regular columnist—the pundit comes right out and says it:
ROBINSON (2/18/05): Liberals like me are perpetually queasy about globalization and what the ability to make T-shirts or television sets in Costa Rica or China for a fraction of what it costs to make them here is doing to American jobs, the U.S. labor movement, the balance of trade—pick your worry. Yet we don't shun the low prices globalization offers us any more than conservatives do.So its true—Robinson admits that hes a big liberal. And soon he expresses another key point: Many other press corps people are great big liberals too!
ROBINSON (continuing directly): I don't shop at Wal-Mart, and neither, I suspect, does most of the rest of the Washington-based commentariat. The reason is lack of convenience—there isn't yet a Wal-Mart inside the Beltway. But I do shop at less distant big-box stores, including Costco, and almost every time I do, I run into a friend or acquaintance whom I know to be a highly compensated professional of the liberal persuasion. We're there, standing in line with Ethiopian cab drivers and Honduran construction workers and Korean grocers so we can buy two pounds of coffee for what 12 ounces would cost at the neighborhood store.So its true—Eugene Robinson is a liberal, and so are many press corps colleagues. But uh-oh! Yes, you did already pick up the tone of this instructive piece. Like all good modern press corps liberals, Robinson is quick to state a key point—we press corps liberals are a bunch of big phonies. You know how liberals are, after all! Theyre perpetually queasy about globalization (pick your worry), but they shop at Wal-Mart all the same. If we want to, he says at one point, we can shop where the people selling us our coffee beans have union contracts and better benefits. But being hypocritical, liberals dont.
But then, Robinson seems to be a familiar press corps liberal—the kind who mainly makes fun of liberals. Indeed, right at the start of this mornings piece, he makes a burlesque of a liberal concern, just the way the fakers-and-phonies all over talk radio do:
ROBINSON (pgh 1): I spent a morning this week walking up and down the aisles of a local Wal-Mart, and I have to confess that I never once glimpsed the face of pure evil.Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Robinson didnt glimpse the face of pure evil when he visited Wal-Mart. Instead, he glimpsed the faces of a lot of liberals who say they care—but really dont.
So lets review. According to Robinson, Wal-Mart isnt the face of pure evil (he never explains who said that it was). And according to Robinson, the press corps liberals are fakers and phonies. Late on, he helps us see how phony those libs really are:
ROBINSON: We have options.Pretending to love the working class, Robinson rues his cohorts advantages. We have options, but our gardeners dont. And not only that: Unlike Robinsons privileged liberals, his gardeners have no forum to bemoan the state of the political economy.
Many others don't. The people who tend the yards of the commentariat and serve canapes at our parties, who drive us around in their taxicabs and clean our offices at night, don't have the option of paying more and have no forum to bemoan the state of the political economy. Those are the people I saw in Wal-Mart that morning, buying work pants for $16.64, tank tops for $4.46 and shoes for just under $25. Where else are they going to outfit their children for kindergarten? Baby Gap? Are they supposed to furnish their apartments at Crate and Barrel?
But why dont Robinsons various servants have a useful forum like that? Of course! They dont have it because people like Robinson help run the press corps—vacuous people who say that theyre liberals, although its quite clear that theyre arent. Indeed, how does a modern press liberal behave? Robinson shows us this morning:
First, they create burlesques of liberal concerns, pretending that liberals are running around saying that Wal-Mart is the face of pure evil. The public hears a silly burlesque of a progressive concern, not an intelligent formulation.
Second, they please the Limbaugh World by saying the press corps is full of such liberals. Everywhere he looks he sees them, the pundit lets us know.
Then, of course, the key final point: Man, are we liberals a bunch of big hypocrites! We pretend to care about working people. The fact is, we just flat-out dont.
Readers, why is it? Why dont Robinsons various servants have a forum to further their interests? Lets say it again: They dont have a forum like that because men like Robinson talk about drivel. Indeed, such pundits may even believe that theyre liberals—but its time someone informed them theyre not. There are real concerns real progressives express, concerning the real welfare of Robinsons servants. But Robinson, yelling liberal, will never express them. He says hes a liberal—and he may even think it. But someone should tell him—hes not!
THE LASSITUDE OF A PRESS LIBERAL: Why dont working people have a meaningful forum? Duh! Because pundits like Robinson have no plan to create one! Lets face it: Robinson got his post at the op-ed page because his bosses felt fairly sure hed say nothing untidy or important. Examples? In his first op-ed column (February 1), he snoozed his way through a pointless piece about Michael Jacksons impending trial. It promises to be compelling, in the way that a slow-motion train wreck is compelling. And also very sad, he opined. Two columns later, it was time to praise Condi; she doesn't fit any of the silly, often repellent stereotypes that black women get tagged with. (Lets add our own irrelevant words of praise. She has never robbed a bank. Or pushed children under a milk truck.) Next piece? Of course! Time for Charles and Camilla! Charles and Camilla have my permission to be happy together or unhappy together, and the queen can be pleased or displeased. I just can't bring myself to care this time, Robinson wrote, playing rough with the royals. And after that, it was on to Ray Charles, a self-described Democrat who played and sang for Ronald Reagan. For Robinson, Ray provided the perfect gateway to the press corps Requisite Current Script: Those way-liberal Democrats need to reach out. Despite his self-proclaimed ardent liberalism, there was no sign that the pundit is troubled when he sees George Bush deceiving women like Ray Charles mother.
Why dont his servants have that forum? Because the pundit, a self-described liberal, devotes his columns to drivel and cant! But thats why someone should break him the news. Dude! It isnt against the law! But hit the road on that liberal jack. Whatever you are, it aint that.
THE CON JOBS OF A CONSERVATIVE: At the Post, liberals are paid not to notice columns like todays piece by Charles Krauthammer. Good God! He could have typed this piece in his sleep back in 1985! The Social Security system has no trust fund. No lockbox, he robotically rasps.
According to Krauthammer, the SS trustees have no trust fund. But lets adapt his key recitation (see his paragraph 5). Lets pretend hes addressing a private individual—an individual whose portfolio bulges with Treasury bonds. In fact, lets pretend hes addressing Ross Perot. More on this topic next week:
KRAUTHAMMER, ADDRESSING PEROT: Let's start with basics. You have no portfolio. When you buy your bonds every year, the money is not converted into gold bars and shipped to some desert island, ready for retrieval when they come due. Your money is "lent" to the federal Treasury. And gets entirely spent. It vanishes. In return, a piece of paper gets deposited in a vault saying the government will repay you. These pieces of paper might be useful for rolling cigars. They will not fund your retirement.Would anyone say something that stupid to Perot? Would anyone say that his money has vanished? No, because this scripted idiocy is aimed one way only. Press corps liberals—liberals like Robinson—are paid not to notice such facts.
THE LINKS OF A LIBERAL: For links to Robinsons first six columns, you know what to do—just click here.