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MIKE HATCHELL’S CONCERN! Olbermann’s guest voiced a common concern—Social Security may not be there by the time he retires: // link // print // previous // next //

Tantaros keeps her big trap shut: Did Barack Obama “walk back” or “back off from” his Friday night statement concerning the Cordoba House project? By Saturday, it had become a test of faith in some parts of the web that he had done no such thing.

For our money, the adamant way this claim was advanced was, in some cases, pretty silly. Had Obama “backed off” in some way? By Sunday morning, the New York Times was parsing the rolling attempt to “clarify” his remarks in this comically awkward manner:

STOLBERG (8/15/10): Indeed, the criticism was so intense that the White House ultimately issued an elaboration on the president’s clarification, insisting that the president was “not backing off in any way” from the comments he made Friday night.

Conrad wrote of the “fascination of the abomination.” This phrase rhymed with that.

Did Obama “back off from” his Friday night statement? Not necessarily, but Friday’s apparent point of emphasis was rather plainly changed. But some obedient liberal bloggers were unwilling to “back off from” the White House line, thus becoming more like the ditto-heads our side used to mock.

Never surrender! It’s the greatest law of tribal debate! Some liberals weren’t giving an inch in their assessments of Obama’s statements. But to see this tribal law in full flower, you had to see Andrea Tantaros’ disgraceful appearance on this weekend’s Fox News Watch.

A bit of background: For a remarkable number of years, this was the one truly “fair-and-balanced” program on the Fox News Channel. For ten years, the show was hosted by Eric Burns, who plainly wasn’t a movement conservative; it featured at least two of the brightest, leftiest pundits ever seen on cable news channels. (First Jeff Cohen, then Neal Gabler.) But in 2008, this program was finally dragged, kicking and screaming, into the wider Fox orbit. Burns was replaced with the hapless Don Scott, who is completely out of his depth hosting a program of news criticism. Under Scott, the weekly program investigates familiar lists of utterly hackneyed conservative gripes and complaints.

On most occasions, it does include pundits with liberal perspectives, including Kirsten Powers and Ellis Hennican. Not so this past weekend.

This weekend, one of the program’s topics was the press corps’ coverage of Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain—and Tantaros was one of the panelists. This gave Tantaros the perfect chance to correct her own misreporting of this story. On August 5, Tantaros made a ginormous factual error in her New York Daily News column, using it to fashion a strong denunciation of the first lady. “Michelle Obama seems more like a modern-day Marie Antoinette…than an average mother of two,” Tantaros pronounced. (Headline: “Material girl Michelle Obama is a modern-day Marie Antoinette on a glitzy Spanish vacation.”) In part, this assessment was built on a giant error. Here is Tantaros, a nasty piece of work, doing what she does best:

TANTAROS (8/5/10): While many of us are struggling, the First Lady is spending the next few days in a five-star hotel on the chic Costa del Sol in southern Spain with 40 of her "closest friends.” According to CNN, the group is expected to occupy 60 to 70 rooms, more than a third of the lodgings at the 160-room resort. Not exactly what one would call cutting back in troubled times.

In fact, Obama was traveling with two of her friends (and their children), not with forty. Given the actual size of the party, you can make what you like of that report about the way the group was “expected to occupy 60 to 70 rooms.”

Tantaros took a gigantic factual error and used it to fashion a nasty assessment. And omigod! Absolutely too perfect! On Sunday, she was asked to assess the way the press corps covered the first lady’s trip! But no correction would come from Tantaros, or from any of the hacks assembled to clown their way through this discussion. Here’s how the segment began:

SCOTT (8/15/10): Our first lady jetted off for a five-day trip to the southern coast of Spain last week, sparking criticism from both the right and the left. Some calling the first lady out of touch with ordinary Americans, struggling in these bad economic times. And Judy, Andrea wrote that her "everywoman" image in the media has been blown. Do you agree?

JUDITH MILLER: Well, she had—Andrea has another line. She also said that she was our version of Marie Antoinette, which Rush Limbaugh then said, “Michelle Antoinette.”


Look, the optics are wrong. Andrea is right on this. When you've got 9.5 percent unemployment in this country, going off to a five-star vacation, even if you're paying for it yourself, does not look good. But as The Washington Post said, where is she supposed to stay, in Motel 6 on vacation? I mean, yes! If you're the president's wife, maybe that would be best. How about camping in a national park?


TANTAROS: How about Camp David? What happened to Camp David?


Yes, that was Judith Miller, of Iraq-bungling fame, apparently representing “the left” on this program. The discussion began with praise for Tantaros’ wit and wisdom—and as the discussion continued, neither Scott, nor Miller, nor anyone else ever mentioned Tantaros’ gigantic howlers.

This was the line-up on Sunday’s program. None of these utterly worthless hacks ever said a word about Tantaros’ cosmic bungling:

Don Scott
Andrea Tantaros
James Pinkerton
Judith Miller
Juan Williams

In fairness: Given this program’s preparation standards, we know of no reason to assume that Scott, Miller, Williams or Pinkerton even knew about Tantaros’ blunders. Tantaros did know, of course. And she kept her big trap shut.

Scott is a million miles out of his depth on this program, even allowing for the way he pimps the acceptable topics and viewpoints. As for Tantaros, she’s a nasty piece of work. She’ll be around a long time.

Never surrender! And never admit! These are key laws of tribal debate. These laws will be with us a long time too, obeyed by two tribal units.

Special report: The thirty-year itch!

PART 1—MIKE HATCHELL’S CONCERN (permalink): A fascinating moment occurred on last Thursday night’s Countdown. It was a marker of the political combat of past thirty years.

In his opening segment, Keith Olbermann spoke with Mike Hatchell, a 52-year-old Lumberton (N.C.) mechanic who was recently unemployed for more than a year. At one point, Olbermann asked about Hatchell’s retirement prospects. In his reply, Hatchell volunteered a thought about the status of Social Security:

OLBERMANN (8/12/10): Can you give us some idea of your life financially? Meaning, you seem like a typical American family. How is the classic American Dream looking for you right now in terms of your retirement? Your son’s college is coming up in the not-too-distant future. How’s that looking?

HATCHELL: Obviously, I mean, with the unemployment—after 59 weeks without a job, you know, I mean, the IRA accounts, you know, that got drained. We basically have no retirement other than, hopefully, the government will have Social Security. We all know how vague that might be in the future.

Overall, this was an excellent segment, though Olbermann failed to ask Hatchell and his wife if either or both were xenophobes. (Statistically, both probably are, according to Digby’s assessments.) That said, we were fascinated when Hatchell, who plainly seemed like a very bright person, volunteered the thought that Social Security may not be around by the time he retires. “Hopefully, the government will [still] have” the program at that point, he said. But according to Hatchell, “we all know how vague” such prospects are.

Despite the possibility that he is a xenophobe, Hatchell seemed like a smart, decent person. Why did he say that?

The next morning, Paul Krugman made a prediction in this blog post. He said another fight was probably coming about the essence of Social Security. “The same old disingenuous arguments” will be making the rounds, he said:

KRUGMAN (8/13/10): Social Security Finances

Sadly, it looks as if we’re going to have to fight the Social Security fight all over again, with the same old disingenuous arguments making the rounds. So let me return to an oldie but baddie: the there-is-no-trust-fund nonsense.

Among those familiar disingenuous arguments, Krugman turned to an oldie but goodie—the claim that there is no such thing as the Social Security trust fund.

Will we be fighting this fight again? We’re not sure, but Hatchell’s statement demonstrates something quite important. It shows the way liberals have had their keisters kicked on this topic over the past thirty years. It helps show the way the right has won a disinformation war about the status of Social Security. But then, many comments left beneath Krugman’s post showed the same darn thing.

Hatchell isn’t sure that Social Security will be there for him. And sure enough! The next day, inside the Krugman comments, a litany of familiar old claims appeared—the kinds of claims which have driven this discussion for at least the past three decades. These highly persuasive frameworks and claims were invented in pseudo-conservative think tanks, then churned by pseudo-conservative talkers, many of whom may even believe what they’re saying. These claims have been pushed for the past thirty years—as the “career liberal” world sucked its thumb and napped, way off in the woods

What sorts of claims were marbled through the comments to Krugman’s post? Familiar claims which have misled millions of people—people like Mike Hatchell:

Commenter 4 quickly implied that Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme, and a fraud.”

Commenter 5 used another familiar image. People “say there is no trust fund,” he said, because “the government is taking money out of its right pocket, putting it in its left pocket, then spending that money.”

Commenter 16 voiced a worn talking point: “One of the big problems of Social Security is when it began the age for qualifying was set at 65 because the average life span for a male was 64. You were expected to work till you died.”

Commenter 53 piggy-backed on Commenter 5, employing a major chunk of the snide to show what a fraud the system is:

COMMENTER 53: Hey, I think I just figured out a great, quick way to become a millionaire. I'll create a trust fund filled with special bonds, totaling a million dollars. These bonds will be payable to me. And they will also be issued by me. Then I can brag that I have a trust fund worth a million dollars. I'm rich! I mean, hey, if Social Security can do it, why can't I?

Commenter 55 offered a somewhat similar homily. “The idea that there is a Social Security trust fund is ludicrous,” he said, before sketching his scenario. Commenter 60 went down this road too, saying that Social Security “is actually an arcane bookkeeping scheme with imaginary current and future funds.” (“The taxes have already been squandered by the federal government,” this commenter said.)

Before long, standard images of “looting” and “stealing” turned in expected guest appearances, driving an iconic claim—Social Security’s “trust fund” is just a pile of worthless IOUs:

COMMENTER 84: Your representatives wanted to devise a way to loot the Social Security fund without it appearing on the balance sheet so they set up special securities that don't show up in any deficit or debt. That's why the trust fund doesn't hold Treasury Bills like our foreign creditors hold. Whenever you hear the word surplus in the trust fund they're really talking about IOUs which are not worth the paper they're printed on. Every year they raided the trust fund they left behind an IOU that wouldn't increase the debt or add to the deficit until the trust fund needed to collect on the phony scrip.

COMMENTER 95: What am I missing here? Congress took over all the Trust Funds, and stole the money during the Reagan years. The money was supposedly placed in special notes. This was a book-keeping transaction. There are no Trust Funds. There are no Bond investments. The money is gone without a whimper from anyone.

What Congress did, anyone else would go to jail for 20 years. Please, Paul, do not refer to trust funds as if they really existed.

You and I “would go to jail” if we did what Congress has done!

Just a guess: Down in Lumberton, N.C., Mike Hatchell has heard such statements for many years. He isn’t quite as refined as Digby, and so he may listen to Sean or to Rush—or to various Rush wannabes who recite these same familiar points. He has heard people say such things at work. He has heard people say these things when he plays softball, or when he goes bowling.

And one more guess: In the past thirty years, he has never heard the “career liberal” world tell him what’s actually wrong with these statements. We prefer to wait until he takes the wrong stance on some issue, at which time we drop our R, X and N-bombs. That’s why Hatchell, a plainly intelligent person, seems to think that he may get hosed.

For thirty years, the imagery has flown all about, churned by spin-tanks of the right. Everyone hears these familiar claims—but no one ever hears cogent rebuttal, which the loveable losers of the “career liberal” world have never quite managed to formulate.

This is what Hatchell has heard:

The Social Security “trust fund” is just a pile of worthless IOUs. The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it! The fund has been looted and pillaged by Congress. The left hand has borrowed from the right hand, producing a mere accounting fiction. The system will be “bankrupt” in the year 2037, or maybe in 2017.

Result? As far back as 1994, the Associated Press reported a now-iconic survey of voters aged 18 to 34. “Young Americans find it easier to believe in UFOs than the likelihood Social Security will be around when they retire,” the AP reported. Among respondents, 46 percent said they believed in UFOs. Only 34 percent said they believed that Social Security would still exist by the time they retire.

That survey appeared sixteen years ago; Hatchell was 36 at the time. The talking-points which produced that survey’s results remain ubiquitous, as is clear in the comments to Krugman’s post. And wouldn’t you know it? The “intellectual leaders” of the “liberal” world still haven’t framed a winning response! Result? Hatchell, a plainly intelligent person, remains afraid that the venerable program won’t be there when he retires.

If we fight this fight again, how should we liberals argue our case? Tomorrow, we’ll offer an opening thought. On Wednesday, we’ll look at the rest of Krugman’s post—and we’ll check out today’s column.