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THE INCREDIBLES (PART 1 OF 2)! You live in a deeply fallen time. Here—let Kevin Drum show you: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2004

THE INCREDIBLES (PART 1 OF 2): Our resolution would have been: Be a bit less acerbic this year about various lefty/Dem/centrist bloggers. Then we came home from vacance Wednesday night and read Kevin Drum’s inexcusable piece about Social Security in that day’s L.A. Times.

And yes, Drum’s piece is inexcusable, built on a heartless, predictable slander. “I used to be a Social Security doom-monger,” he says at the start of his piece. “Like everyone else my age, I knew the familiar drill: Social Security is a demographic time bomb.” And why did Drum, like everyone else, think SS was such a mess? His explanation is simply astounding. It was because of Clinton and Gore, he reveals! Yes, this really is Drum’s account of how he became so disinformed about the future of Social Security:

DRUM (pgh 2): Politicians were eager to feed my fears. Bill Clinton urged us to "take action now to avert a crisis in the Social Security system." Al Gore made the Social Security "lockbox" a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. And George W. Bush insisted earlier this month that Social Security was "headed toward bankruptcy down the road." As a result, most young people today are convinced that Social Security will be gone by the time they retire.
Incredible! Just try to believe that he wrote it! Clinton and Gore misled young people, Drum says. And there’s more: According to this phantasmagoric account, Bush seems to have avoided misleading statements until he finally offered one “earlier this month!” Let’s state the obvious: If this utterly ludicrous account had come from a Republican operative, it would have occasioned raucous, head-shaking laughter. (In fact, no Republican would ever write something so daft.) But coming from Drum—a voice of the “liberal” Washington Monthly—it helps us see, at the start of the year, the fallen state of our political discourse. And it raises an obvious question: Why exactly do Drum and his cohort lie in your face in this manner?

The sheer absurdity of Drum’s account almost beggars description. Why do young people believe that Social Security “won’t be there”by the time they retire? Their impression has nothing to do with Clinton or Gore, as Drum must surely understand. (So must the fallen Michael Kinsley, who edits the page where this lunacy appears.) Who started presenting the claim that Social Security was just a “ponzi scheme,” a phony “shell game,” whose trust fund was “nothing but IOUs?” It wasn’t Clinton, and it wasn’t Gore, and neither man created the ignorance Drum now seeks to debunk. This imagery began to appear in the mid-to-late 1980s, usually (though not always) offered by conservative think tanks and Republican spokesmen. By the early Clinton years, the various mantras were locked into place. For example, here was Ed Crane, head of the Cato Institute, in the Chicago Tribune:

CRANE (7/14/94): In April of this year Social Security officials announced that [SS] had a new "insolvency" date; 2029, one year closer than they had projected just last year.

And so it goes in the offices of the Social Security Administration, home of the world's largest Ponzi scheme. Sold originally to the American public as a program to care for the indigent elderly, then as a "national pension plan" into which we pay "insurance premiums," Social Security has always been a fraud, a pay-as-you-go slush fund for politicians to dip into...

This was standard stuff by the early 1990s, but it wasn’t coming from Clinton or Gore. “Social Security is in the process of failing,” Crane wrote, and he included another requisite creed: “[T]here is no Social Security trust fund, only government debt issued to itself.” Later that year, conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby recited in the Boston Globe:
JACOBY (12/20/94): Not being a politician, I can say anything I like about Social Security—even the truth. And the truth is that Social Security is an immense Ponzi scheme that is slowly bankrupting young Americans in order to enrich their elders. The truth is that people in my age group—under 40—will never get back in retirement benefits what we are paying in Social Security taxes...
No, Clinton and Gore had nothing to do with the spread of these ubiquitous messages. And no, we don’t believe for a minute that Kevin Drum (and Michael Kinsley) don’t understand this fact perfectly well.

But Drum is the kind of well-fed “liberal” who feels (for reasons he must now explain) that he has to bad-mouth Clinton and Gore—and cover for Bush—when he writes in the nation’s great papers. Indeed, his contrasting treatment of Bush and Gore is a simple obscenity. Was Drum misled about Social Security because of Gore’s 2000 campaign? Incredible! While Bush spread disinformation far and wide (links below), Gore was saying that he would use projected budget surpluses to extend the “solvency” of the system. For example, here’s part of a New York Times report about Gore’s stance on Social Security. According to Drum, this is the man whose campaign led young Americans to think that SS wouldn’t be there by the time they retired:

JAMES DAO (5/2/00): Mr. Gore also used his Atlantic City speech to discuss his own proposal for keeping the Social Security system solvent.

Under that plan, he would use the system's surplus to pay down the national debt, which in turn would reduce the federal government's interest payments. Those savings would then be put back into the Social Security trust fund, keeping the system solvent for an additional 13 years or more [through the year 2055].

"I will devote all interest from debt reduction to shore up Social Security," Mr. Gore said. "I think it is wrong to cut benefits, raise the retirement age or risk your retirement savings in a game of stock market roulette."

Was it Gore who was telling young people that the system wouldn’t be there for them? Drum’s history would be laughable—from a Republican. Coming from him, it is simply obscene—and it’s a window onto the fallen times in which normal Americans live.

Clinton and Gore misled the young people! And Bush finally made a misstatement last month!! Drum is lying through his teeth, for reasons he should now explain. Readers, why do such poodles start saying such things when they join the class of the type-for-pay journalists? Do they see those millionaire pay-days ahead? Are they making their statements more pleasing to their owners and future pay-masters? We don’t know, but Dems, liberals, progressives and centrists have to tells the Drums they must stop. Poodles are fun when they prance in the dog show. They aren’t fun when they pimp in the Times.

On, by the way, one more thing: Who is misleading young people today? Yesterday, Kevin Drum was that person! He ought to explain why he did such a thing—and in the meantime, Dems and centrists should chase such men through the streets of their store-bought, fallen land.

INCREDIBLE: Incredible! Here is Gore at the first debate with Bush. According to Drum’s disgraceful account, this is the man who convinced young people that SS wouldn’t be there for them:

JIM LEHRER (10/3/00): Many experts, including Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, Vice President Gore, say that it will be impossible for either of you, essentially, to keep the system viable on its own during the coming baby boomer retirement onslaught without either reducing benefits or increasing taxes. Do you disagree?

GORE: I do disagree, because if we can keep our prosperity going, if we can continue balancing the budget and paying down the debt, then the strong economy keeps generating surpluses. And here's what I would do. Here is my plan.

I will keep Social Security in a lockbox, and that pays down the national debt. And the interest savings, I would put right back into Social Security. That extends the life of Social Security for 55 years.

Now, I think that it's very important to understand that cutting benefits under Social Security means that people like Winifred Skinner, from Des Moines, Iowa who's here, would really have a much harder time, because there are millions of seniors who are living almost hand to mouth. And you talk about cutting benefits. I don't go along with it. I am opposed to it.

“I do disagree,” Gore said, disputing the claim that SS wasn’t fully viable. Somehow, this convinced Drum and his half-*ssed friends that SS wouldn’t be there for them. Bush, of course, made his first misstatement sometime last month, Drum admits.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: During Campaign 2000, Bush recited an endless string of misleading spins about SS—and the press corps praised him as a “bold leader.” Gore was trashed for saying that the system was viable. For a four-part review of the clownish way Soc Sec was covered during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/02, along with the HOWLERS which follow it.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Yesterday, the White House bad-mouthed Clinton too, this time about the killer tsunami. Indeed, for a certain type of person, bad-mouthing Clinton/Gore is always good business. Drum proved it—and the White House did too. You know what to do—just click here.

TOMORROW (PART 2 OF 2): How bizarre is your discourse at the end of the year? We visit Slate —and American Prospect.