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Daily Howler: The Post discussed George Bush's deceptions--just as Karl Rove would discuss them
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TYPING ROVE’S BRIEF! The Post discussed George Bush’s deceptions—just as Karl Rove would discuss them: // link // print // previous // next //

TYPING ROVE’S BRIEF: Last Tuesday, we described two stories on Social Security that ought to run on page one of the Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/05). On Friday, the Post published a half-hearted version of one of those stories (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/05). And then, on Sunday, things only got worse. Seeming to work from a script by Karl Rove, Jim VandeHei took a less-than-half-hearted stab at the other story we had proposed.

His headline? “Partisan Social Security Claims Questioned.” And then, of course, the fatal sub-headline: “Budget Experts Say Both Sides Flawed.” That’s right—instead of doing a stand-alone piece about George Bush’s misleading statements, VandeHei felt compelled to claim that “both sides” are playing this game. Result? After a brief, half-baked look at Bush’s claim that Social Security is “going bankrupt—flat bust,” VandeHei went after a troubling “Democratic Claim” —the party’s perfectly reasonable claim that “Personal Accounts Will Cost $4.9 Trillion.”

Of course, if it were a Democratic claim that VandeHei sought, he might have used the term “private” accounts, the term Dems use in these battles. But uh-oh! That might make his White House masters mad—and VandeHei struggles throughout this piece to pander to those ruling powers. Let’s examine two pieces of drek with which the scribe kills time in his piece. Because he larded his report with this cant, he was able to avoid taking a real look at George Bush’s deceptions.

The transition costs of those private accounts. The Dems are just as bad as Bush, VandeHei claims in this part of his piece. Yes, there would be large transition costs with private accounts, he admits at the start of this section. But then, he claims that those troubling Dems have been just as phony as Bush:

VANDEHEI (2/27/05): But it is impossible to slap a realistic price tag on the Bush plan until the president shares with Americans the specific benefit cuts and other changes that will accompany the new accounts.

As a result, the Democrats' $4.9 trillion figure is as debatable and politically motivated as Bush's $754 billion estimate, budget experts say.

Pathetic. Why can no one be sure about the size of the transition costs in Bush’s plan? Duh! No one can be sure because, six years into a debate which Bush himself started, the president still won’t reveal his plan! But this point is nicely obscured by VandeHei. He goes on to describe the two sides’ numbers:
VANDEHEI: Bush says the accounts would cost about $754 billion over the next 10 years. This might be true, but only because it is based on the program starting in 2009 and being fully implemented in 2011. The costs skyrocket when the new accounts are open to all. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says that it will cost $4.9 trillion over a 20-year period, starting in 2009.
Remember: According to VandeHei, Reid’s numbers are every bit as “politically motivated” as Bush’s. What nonsense! Indeed, what does VandeHei omit from his analysis? As VandeHei notes, Bush’s low number has been ginned up by monkeying around with the starting point of his phased-in plan. But Reid’s numbers haven’t been gimmicked in any way similar. It’s true—Reid can’t really assess Bush’s plan, a plan which Bush refuses to reveal. But Reid’s number is the result of a dutiful assessment from the CBPP—the best assessment one can currently offer—and this is an obviously salient fact which VandeHei never explains! Result? VandeHei turns Reid’s dutiful assessment into the moral equivalent of Bush’s ginned-up numbers. And who is really being honest? Omigod! What clowns these “mainstream” mortals be! Try to believe that he wrote it:
VANDEHEI (continuing directly): Vice President Cheney recently said the accounts would cost "trillions of dollars," which is probably the most honest, if vague, estimate, budget experts said.
Good God! VandeHei never explains where Reid gets his numbers—then says that Cheney is being most honest! Reid is just as bad as Bush—and Cheney’s the one who is being most honest! Where do they find the sniveling boys who will offer such nonsense to voters?

The metaphysics of the trust fund. No, it wasn’t enough to pander to Bush by saying that Cheney’s the honest one here. Another good way to kill some time and create confusion is by debating the trust fund’s metaphysics. Has President Bush been spinning the voters when he says that there really isn’t a trust fund? In fairness, VandeHei is probably light-years over his head with this long- and well-spun topic. But here’s what the scrub-cheeked scribe writes:

VANDEHEI: "Payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust," the president said earlier this month.

There is, in fact, a trust fund, but its significance is subject to debate.

The trust fund’s “significance is subject to debate.” Indeed, VandeHei seems to suggest that the trust fund is really that “accounting fiction” we have all heard described. As he closes this section, he explains what will happen when it’s time to pay back the SS trustees for the money which the federal government has borrowed from the system:
VANDEHEI: Once redemption begins, future administrations will have to make good on their IOUs, or risk a potentially destabilizing default on U.S. sovereign debt.

To redeem those bonds, the government will have three choices: raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more money. Those are the same choices the government would face even if there were no trust fund.

It’s just as if “there were no trust fund,” he says, reciting a long-standing point of pseudo-con logic. But VandeHei forgets to explore the full logic of this topic. “If there were no trust fund”—that is, if working people hadn’t overpaid their payroll taxes for the past twenty years—then guess what? Tens of millions of average people would have many tens of thousands of extra dollars sitting in their bank accounts! For twenty years, they have paid that extra money on the basis of a promise—the promise that the federal government would repay these loans in the future, just as it does with all other loans. If that money is not repaid, then those average workers become the victims of the biggest financial swindle in history. But so what? VandeHei omits that part of the logic. After all, Karl Rove never does.

By the way, one final piece of trust fund logic: “If there were no trust fund”—if those extra payroll taxes hadn’t been paid—then the federal government would have been forced to borrow the money from somebody else. They would have borrowed the money from Ross Perot. They would have borrowed the money from Chinese banks. And guess what? VandeHei—an obedient fellow—wouldn’t be writing gloomy stories about how hard it will be to repay that money. Remember: Whenever the government pays back a loan, it “has three choices: raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more money.” But for some reason, the VandeHeis only make this gloomy observation about the loans from Social Security! When he does so, he is reciting four decades of pseudo-con spin—spin that was invented to mislead you.

The trust fund’s “significance is subject to debate?” Yes, that’s right—if you think it doesn’t matter if working people get cosmically scammed. VandeHei—tool of a powerful class—knows to look past this small problem.

Last Tuesday, we said the Post should explore two key subjects. But VandeHei’s editors had no plans for a stand-alone piece about Bush’s distortions. So they pretended that Reid was just as bad, and they killed some time with trust fund pseudo-logic. And by the way: This is the way your “liberal press corps” has written about this topic for decades. As they do, lib leaders have a complaint: This press corps won’t cover Jeff Gannon!!

SOMETIMES IT’S WHAT YOU LEAVE OUT: Poor VandeHei! Required to kill time with his trust fund illogic, he wasn’t able to discuss another repetitive GOP claim. Social Security “won’t be there for them;” we’ve all heard this said, again and again, by and about those poor younger workers. This claim is very effective propaganda—but it’s complete, total nonsense, of course. But so what? VandeHei’s editors know Karl Rove’s brief, and they knew their scrub-cheeked scribe should skip this effective deception. Instead, they hurried him on to this claim—Harry Reid is as bad as George Bush.

WITH DEMS LIKE THIS, WHO NEEDS REPUBLICANS: And then, of course, there’s hapless Joe Biden, speaking on Meet the Press this Sunday. Try to believe—just try to believe—that this is the way your Big Major Democrats talk about Social Security:

BIDEN (2/27/05): Look, in terms of a crisis, let's get something straight here. We're talking about 2018 being the year, which—that's based on projections that are very modest in terms of our growth. If, in fact,those projections are wrong, that number goes out further, number one. So that's the point at which less money is going in than is going out. Right now, we have this massive hemorrhage of more money in than out. We're spending it all.
Incredible. A few weeks ago, we were surprised to see three major Democrats using 2042 (instead of 2052) as the year when the SS shortfall begins. But yesterday, Biden—trying to “get something straight here”—said that the year 2018 is the year when the problem begins! (No, he mentioned no other year.) And by the way: “We’re spending it” all is Republican spin (you’ll note that VandeHei quotes Bush saying it). A Dem should make the more precise statement—the extra money is being borrowed by the government, the same way the government borrows money from many other sources, all of whom do get repaid.

Sadly, these weren’t Biden’s only howlers. Earlier, the utterly hapless Democrat spokesman made this astounding misstatement:

BIDEN: Let's get one thing straight. No matter how you cut it, this real debate on personal accounts is about the legitimacy of Social Security; it's not about the solvency of Social Security. This does nothing not only to not make it makes it less solvent. It makes it less solvent. You've got to come up with $2 trillion in order to accommodate the president's plan that he put out there, about 4 percent.
Once again trying to “get one thing straight,” Biden grossly understated the transition costs for those private accounts. Biden—hopelessly unprepared, as big Dem spokesmen constantly are—was using a number his party (and all informed observers) abandoned months ago. And yes, this makes a major difference. As we noted a few weeks ago, polling shows that people turn against Bush’s plan when they learn how big the transition costs are. That’s why Bush invents phony numbers designed to make the costs seem small. And that’s why Dems like Biden commit malfeasance when they go on Meet the Press unknowing, clueless, hopeless—unprepared.

Do you see why we say that effective messages will have to come from the liberal web? After all, with Dems like Biden on TV, who needs to bother with any Republicans? Why should Republicans go on TV to misstate when Joe Biden is willing to perform the task for them? The Who-Gives-a-Sh*t Party refuses to function—which leaves it all up to the web.

TOMORROW (or Wednesday, depending on snow): Clueless RE Rathergate—Part 1 of 4.

ADD-ON: Josh Marshall praises Biden’s appearance on yesterday’s Meet the Press. Why do we think Josh is wrong about this? Let’s consider the two Biden statements Josh singles out for high praise.

First: Yes, Biden did say this at one point: "No matter how you cut it, this real debate on personal accounts is about the legitimacy of Social Security; it's not about the solvency of Social Security." Josh calls this a “key point,” but, in context, it simply isn’t. In Josh’s work on Social Security—and we’ve praised his brilliant work to the skies—Josh has often made similar statements. But here’s the difference: Josh has gone into great detail as to what he means when he says that Bush’s bill is really a “phase-out.” By contrast, Biden’s statement carried no context; few people watching the show will have any idea what he meant. In fact, we didn’t know what he meant when he said this, and we still can’t tell you today. Josh is giving Biden too much credit here. This statement was exceptionally vague. We can’t imagine why it would have much meaning for Meet the Press viewers. By the way: Vague, uninformative statements like this are the hallmark of unprepared commentators.

Second: Yes, Biden also said this: "The presumption that Social Security can't meet its obligations rests on the notion that the federal government will default, something it's never done in 220 years, on an obligation, on Treasury notes, IOUs, just like the IOUs Japan has and other countries have in terms of buying our Treasury bonds. And so I don't think we'll default." That’s what makes it so absurd that, just a few moments later, he was identifying 2018 as the year the shortfall begins. (No, he mentioned no other year.) Moving up the problem date is a basic piece of GOP spin. Biden, woefully unprepared, did this on yesterday’s program.

Finally, let’s take a slightly tougher look at what Biden says in that comment. Please note: He doesn’t say that Congress has a moral obligation not to default on those bonds. Nor does he try to explain why Congress has that moral obligation. He simply says that Congress has never done so before, and he doesn’t think it will do so this time. This is a weak, wishy-washy statement. Yes, we’d even call it “faint-hearted.”

Josh is wrong to praise this appearance. Biden, baldly unprepared, basically walked through this session. And yes—he did repeat at least three different elements of elementary Bush White House spin. Good grief! He grossly misstated the transition costs of Bush’s plan. And he moved the point of funding shortfall up by 34 years!

Conservatives win your country’s Spin Wars because they create potent spin-points—spin-points which are often designed to mislead—then go out in a disciplined way and repeat them over and over and over. Biden was lazy and unprepared. He helped show why his party keeps losing.