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ALAN SIMPSON’S CON! Mike Hatchell think SS won’t be there—in part, due to Simpson’s con: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2010

Drums along the Ohio: As usual, the editors were wringing their hands, paralyzed by their moral purity. Newt Gingrich has been on a tear in recent weeks; truly, his conduct has been astounding. But the editors weren’t sure they should say so:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (8/17/10): Mr. Obama’s words at a White House dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were simple and forceful. “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” he said.

Republican ideologues, predictably, used his statement as one more excuse not only to attack the president but to spew more of their intolerant rhetoric.

Newt Gingrich, who has been beating this drum for weeks, accused the president of “pandering to radical Islam” and said the mosque would be a symbol of Muslim “triumphalism.” We were hesitant about repeating those comments here. But the country ignores such cynicism and ugliness at its own peril. Make no mistake, the rest of the world is listening.

In our view, the editors should have discussed Newt’s drumming at much greater length, probably long before this. Almost surely, this drumming helps explain a situation described in Carl Hulse’s news report. Hulse reports on the politics of the (renamed) Park51 project:

HULSE (8/17/10): “Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans,” Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat, in West Virginia’s Third District, said in a typical statement. “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?”

Republicans said Mr. Obama’s defense of the right of the developers to pursue the project showed that he was out of touch with average Americans.

“It is very troubling to see President Obama again turning a deaf ear to the thoughts and concerns of a majority of Americans,” said James Renacci, a Republican candidate in Ohio’s 16th District, who said people at a recent public meeting were furious about the mosque proposal.

Assuming Renacci’s statement is accurate, why were people in Ohio “furious about the mosque proposal?” Presumably, their fury is explained, at least in part, by various things they’ve been hearing on Fox, and in other conservative precincts. Today’s editorial only scratches the surface of the things that have been said on Fox. And yet, the editors were wringing their hands. Had they perhaps said too much?

What have people heard on Fox? They’ve heard that claim about “Muslim triumphalism” embroidered in vast, inane detail. They’ve heard a series of troubling claims about this project’s sponsors. They’ve heard endless false or misleading statements about where the project is located. They’ve heard many statements like the one by Candidate Maynard in the passage above—statements in which a group of people called “the Muslims” are all lumped into one mass.

They’ve heard such statements drummed by Gingrich, who then compares “the Muslims” to other groups—to “the Nazis,” to cite one example.

What would Ohio voters think if they heard these claims corrected and/or examined? There is no real way to know; we don’t currently live in a country where such interactions occur. But Gingrich has made an astonishing series of statements about this topic. This morning, the editors, wringing their hands, barely scratch the surface of his statements. Nor do they make any real attempt to explain why his claims are “intolerant.”

And alas! We’re often struck by how clueless these editors are—clueless about the way their own drums may sound along the Ohio. Clueless is the only word for this hapless aside:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Like President George W. Bush before him, President Obama warned against linking all followers of Islam to terrorists. “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam—it is a gross distortion of Islam,” he rightly said. It is our tolerance of others, he said, “that quintessentially American creed,” that stands in contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

We wish he hadn’t diluted the message the next day, telling reporters that he wasn’t commenting on “the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

He would have done better if he had explained the wisdom of going ahead with the project, which developers said is intended to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together. In addition to a place of worship, it would have a pool and performing arts center. They also have said they want the board to include members from other faiths—a promise they should take care to keep.

The editors are on the ground in Manhattan. For them, this is a local story; presumably, they know more about this project’s sponsors than anyone else in the country. And yet, in the course of praising “the wisdom of going ahead with the project,” they clumsily suggest that the sponsors may be making promises about inclusion and outreach which are insincere.

Just a guess—that drum won’t play along the Ohio. (Luckily, no one reads the Times there.) But it’s typical of the tone-deaf way these hapless oafs lecture the world.

Gingrich’s conduct has been astounding—and yet, the editors were wringing their hands. How much should these exquisite creatures say? The less the better, we sometimes think, watching them speak to the world.

A note about recent “liberal” logic: Remember: According to Howard Dean’s recent logic, Newt Gingrich isn’t a racist. But, by fairly clear insinuation, those proles in Ohio are. We name-call the proles who get misled, excuse the gods who do it.

Special report: The thirty-year itch!

PART 2—ALAN SIMPSON’S CON (permalink): Will Social Security “still be there” when Mike Hatchell, age 52, retires? Plainly yes, barring national melt-down. (Unless enough people start thinking it won’t be, in which case radical “reform” to the program becomes much easier to sell.)

On last Thursday evening’s Countdown, Hatchell said he had to spend his existing retirement funds during 59 weeks of unemployment. (His wife has also been out of work. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/10.) He volunteered an intriguing thought when asked about his retirement prospects:

HATCHELL (8/12/10): 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.

Hatchell seemed like a very bright person. As we watched him, we kept thinking that he would make an excellent national spokesman for a range of political/issue groups. But, like millions of other people, he has heard all kinds of stories about what a fraud Social Security is. As early as 1994, a large number of younger voters had been conned into believing that they would never get Social Security benefits (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/10). Like millions of other Americans, Hatchell seems to retain this fear.

People have heard a welter of claims about Social Security, as we noted in yesterday’s post. But for the most part, people who fear the demise of the program have been misled by two basic cons.

Ironically, the two major cons are semi-contradictory. The first con says that the program’s trust fund doesn’t exist. The second con explains what will happen after the trust fund is gone:

First con—the trust fund: On the one hand, people have heard that the Social Security trust fund is just “an accounting fiction”—“a pile of worthless IOUs,” “the left hand borrowing from the right hand.” (The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!) Since Social Security is supposed to start drawing on the trust fund in the next few years—since the trust fund is supposed to allow the system to maintain promised benefits through the year 2037—this suggests that Social Security might be on the verge of a near-term collapse.

Second con—after the trust fund is gone: On the other hand, people have heard that Social Security will “go broke” or “go bankrupt” once the trust fund expires in 2037 (according to current projections). For most people, these terms suggest some sort of cataclysmic collapse, after which the Social Security system would have to be shuttered. Presumably, this explains why so many people, for so many years, have seemed to assume that they will never draw any benefits.

Those are the two basic cons. People like Hatchell have heard these cons for at least the past thirty years.

It’s easy to address the second con—to explain what happens after 2037. Alan Simpson is the Republican co-chairman of Obama’s deficit commission. Back in June, he said Social Security “will go broke in the year 2037” in an interview with Alex Lawson. But as soon as Lawson challenged that language, Simpson described the actual facts—the facts these scare merchants have known all along. John Berry did the reporting, for the Fiscal Times:

BERRY (6/20/10): Lawson asked if the [deficit] commission was working on Social Security, and Simpson replied, "We’re really working on solvency… the key is solvency."

"What about adequacy? Are you focusing on adequacy as well?" asked Lawson.

Replied Simpson: "Sure. We have to take care of the lesser in society. I don't know where you get all the crap you come up with. ... We’re trying to take care of the lesser people in society, like we always have in this country, and do that in a way without getting into all the flash words that you love to dig up, like cutting Social Security, which is bullshit. We’re not cutting anything. We're not cutting anything, we’re trying to make it solvent. It will go broke in the year 2037."

[…]

Lawson continued the interview by asking, "What do you mean by ‘broke’? Do you mean the surplus [the trust fund] will go out and then it will only be able to pay 75 percent of its benefits?"

"Just listen, will you listen to me instead of babbling?" Simpson said. "In the year 2037, instead of getting 100 percent of your check, you are going to get about 75 percent of your check. That’s if we touch nothing. So if you'd like that, fine.”

Duh. After making the frightening claim that Social Security “will go broke in the year 2037,” Simpson explained what would actually happen. Since payroll taxes would keep rolling in, the system would never “go bankrupt” or “broke,” unless you’re reinventing the language. Instead, payroll taxes would keep rolling in, and benefits would keep going out, although the system would be able to pay only 75 percent of scheduled benefits. Those scheduled benefits are higher than the benefits which are currently being paid (even when adjusted for inflation), but this would not be a desirable circumstance. That said, Mike Hatchell would still be receiving benefits, even after the trust fund expires—though his benefits would have to be cut at that point, barring some new source of revenue.

This would not be a desirable outcome—but Social Security would still “be there.” It would not go belly-up. If we’re still speaking traditional English, it wouldn’t be bankrupt or broke.

When people like Simpson use words like “bankrupt” and “broke,” they deceive people like Hatchell. Unfortunately, they’ve been at this game for a very long time, over at least three decades. As a result, many people are very confused about the program’s long-term prospects. They’ve heard that the system is “going broke.” They think they will never get benefits.

That’s the bad news, but here’s the good news again: This long-term situation is extremely easy to explain. You can see how easily Simpson explained it—but only after he was challenged about his claim that the system “will go broke.” Can we talk? Barring some sort of national meltdown, Social Security will never go broke in the way Hatchell seems to fear. Barring some sort of national meltdown, Social Security will always be there—though we may need to find new revenue, if we want to keep future benefits at their promised levels.

The long-term situation is easy to explain. This raises an obvious question: Why has no one ever explained it to Hatchell? Quite plainly, Hatchell is a very bright person; watching him, we kept thinking how good a spokesman he would be for various groups. But he seems to think that Social Security may not be there when he retires. (“We all know” such things, he said.) Thirty years of “liberal” ineptitude, indifference and fecklessness explain this situation.

The long-term situation is easy to explain; you can see how easily Simpson explained it. But so what? Over the course of the past thirty years, your “liberal” “intellectual leaders” have been too stupid and lazy to do so. As early as 1994, people like Hatchell had been conned. In the sixteen years since then, your “liberal” “intellectual leaders” have continued to nap, snore and fail.

They have relentlessly kissed Chris Matthews’ ass—and failed to perform their key functions.

The long-term con is easy to debunk. The trust fund con is much more complex. In last week’s blog post, Krugman said he’d start with that hoary old groaner. On the morrow, we’ll start with his post.

Tomorrow: Krugman explains