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Daily Howler: Why does Bush keep misstating the facts on SS? He knows only Krugman will challenge
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WHY IT CONTINUES! Why does Bush keep misstating the facts on SS? He knows only Krugman will challenge: // link // print // previous // next //

SURELY, THEY’VE EARNED A GOOD LAUGH: We’re off today to entertain the troops at the national convention of the World Affairs Councils. And let’s face it—if anyone ever deserved a good laugh, it’s the people attending this confab. Does WACA really “tackle the world’s toughest issues,” as their convention title claims? Readers, just take a look at their program! Who else starts discussing “The Future of Oil” at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon? We expect to make some good friends tonight, and of course, to share our stands on the issues. We suspect we’ll be asked about Canadian health care. And about prayer in the schools.

However: Due to this event, we’ll postpone Parts 3 and 4 of our current incomparable series. (We do present an exchange about Gene Steuerle below.) But WACA readers can scan Parts 1 and 2 if they click here. And if they click here too.

Meanwhile, readers might want to review Steve Twomey’s profile of TDH at the Columbia Journalism Review. No, we haven’t read it yet—did you think we’d fall for that old trick?—but Andrew Sullivan linked to the profile last week, and today we obediently follow.

WHY IT CONTINUES: In today’s Times, Paul Krugman debunks the president’s latest bogus claim about Social Security. Do blacks get a raw deal from SS? Bush said so. But once again—bogus:

KRUGMAN (1/28/05): So the claim that Social Security is unfair to blacks is just false. And the fact that privatizers keep making that claim, after their calculations have repeatedly been shown to be wrong, is yet another indicator of the fundamental dishonesty of their sales pitch.
You can read the Krugman piece for the full, detailed rundown. But why do privatizers—and how can Bush—persist in making such bogus statements? Easy! Krugman’s heroics to the side, Bush is allowed to make such claims by an indolent, MIA press corps. At Wednesday’s press conference, for example, Bush continued making a wildly misleading claim—the claim that SS will be “broke” and “bankrupt” by the time younger workers retire (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/05). This claim has misled young Americans for years, but Bush keeps making it, far and wide, secure in the knowledge that the mainstream press corps will stare into air when he does. Sure enough, no one challenged his language at the press event; in fact, you have to turn to the Fox News Channel to find a scribe who will challenge these claims! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/05.) Why does Bush feel he can make a false claim about blacks and SS? Simple! He knows that Krugman will debunk his false claims—and that none of Krugman’s colleagues will follow.

WHO IS MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Maggie Gallagher, “marriage expert,” is also a nasty, angry woman with a ripe, smut-lovin’ mouth. Example? In November 1999, she leaped into action when the press corps ginned up its phony Naomi Wolf flap. Many pundits played the smut card in their phony campaign against Wolf (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03), and Gallagher brought an especially loud mouth to the crowded table. In a November 6, 1999 Washington Times column, the “marriage expert” directly addressed Gore. “So now I hear you've gone out and hired a feminist babe with big hair, friend of your daughter, to help boost your MQ (that's ‘masculinity quotient’ to you outside the Beltway),” she wrote. In the course of her column, she characterized Wolf, a former Rhodes Scholar, as “this pretty little writer thing (don't get me wrong, smart too, gives real good pen) who's going to teach you how to be a man” and she said that Gore had been “looking for manly sex tips from a girl.” After an inexcusable comparison to Monica Lewinsky (such comparisons were required in Gallagher’s smutty cohort), our expert again called Wolf a girl: “Al, baby, the really big problem here is that you are going to a girl to get advice on how to be a man.” At the time, Wolf—the “girl,” who “gives good pen”—was a 37-year-old, world-acclaimed writer, the married mother of a young child. But so what? “Marriage experts” like Maggie Gallagher will continue to degrade our public discourse as long as their colleagues in the mainstream press corps prefer to stare off into air. Each evening, crackpots like Gallagher flood cable programs, where they trash the mainstream press for its disturbing, alleged “liberal bias.” The kookiness (and smuttiness) of the cable discussion makes our national discourse a joke, but mainstream scribes would rather eat live worms than comment on the endless degradation. Is Maggie Gallagher a “marriage expert?” In fact, she’s a smutty, foul-mouthed, loud, angry kook, whose type has made a sick joke of our discourse. But alas! High-minded typists of the mainstream press corps don’t care enough to take notice.

IN HEADLONG PURSUIT OF THE CHAFF: There are no Oscars for bloggers, but if there were, we’d nominate Josh Marshall for his ongoing work on Social Security. In the past few months, he has combined information development with political activism (pressure on congressional reps) in a way that defines a new medium. Present company to the side, we think it’s the best sustained work on a subject that we’ve ever see on the web.

Having said that, though, we’ll also say this—the web-wide focus on the phrases “private accounts” and “personal accounts” is quickly approaching self-parody. Thomas Lang got it right at this Tuesday. “In truth, both [phrases] are an accurate description of what the president appears ready to propose,” Lang wrote. And other phrases are being used that accurately describe the Bush proposal. Presumably because of polling results, Bush seems to prefer that journalists use the term “personal accounts,” and that is the term that he is using. But readers, just because Bush prefers that term, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be used, or that scribes who use the phrase have somehow sold their souls to the enemy. But so what? Some web writers are producing silly, nit-picking pieces on this theme; in them, they chastise scribes who have used a wide range of (accurate) descriptions for this thing that Bush has proposed. At Salon, for example, Farhad Manjoo even criticized Paul Krugman, complaining about a column in which Krugman used the term “personal accounts” way down in paragraph 8. But uh-oh! In the column in question, Krugman used the Bush-opposed term “privatization” in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 14, and he disparaged Bush’s proposal as “a giant 401(k)” right in his opening paragraph! Manjoo’s Stalinism is utterly foolish, but even some of Marshall’s posts have been a bit of a stretch on this topic. Marshall deserves an Oscar for his ongoing work, but this topic is getting semi-silly.

Yes, sometimes it matters when pols like Bush enforce preferred language on journalists. In 1995 and 1996, for example, obedient journalists cowered in the face of the Gingrich revolution; as a token of their fear, they agreed that they would avoid the word “cuts” in describing the GOP Medicare program. (Maraniss and Weisskopf described this process in their book, Tell Newt to Shut Up. Links below.) But in that case, it was clear that voters were being badly misled by the pleasing new language Newt was enforcing. No such problem exists at this time, and it’s silly—in truth, it’s rank amateurism—to criticize Krugman for using an accurate term at one point in a well-reasoned column.

Readers, you’re seeing a form of the children’s hour as this crusade grabs the liberal web. You’re seeing the work of scrub-cheeked scribes who can’t distinguish the wheat from the chaff, and as you watch this pointless theme spread, you’re seeing why the propaganda wars still vastly favor Republicans. The GOP creates its deceptions the old-fashioned way—in well-financed spin-shop run by men who know, quite well, how to mislead the public. By contrast, some liberal bloggers are wasting their time on mere piffle. To all appearances, they have no idea how to proceed in the ongoing war that might yet give us private accounts.

Yes, Manjoo’s piece was truly silly. Meanwhile, Marshall’s work has been superb—Oscar-worthy. But at present, the battle over the phrase “personal accounts” is a bit of a sideshow. Dems should insist that their web defenders find their way to topics that matter. Voters are being misled every day about SS, as they’ve been misled every day for years. But use of the term “personal accounts” isn’t the way it’s being done, however good it may feel to pretend—and to rail against running-dog Krugman.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In 1995, American voters were vastly misled when scribes agreed not to use the word “cuts.” Later, Maraniss and Weisskopf penned a remarkable, on-the-record account of the way this restriction had been enforced. We strongly recommend the Medicare chapter in their book, Tell Newt to Shut Up. For our own (lengthy) report on the subject, you know what to do—just click here.

STEWING ON STEURLE: Some readers complained about Gene Steuerle’s appearance on the January 17 Talk of the Nation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/05). Steuerle isn’t non-partisan, they said; he’s just a conservative partisan. One of our most valued readers wrote to voice his impressions:

E-MAIL: It's clear to me that both Conan, whom I have distrusted for some time, and Steurerle were not interested in informing their audience. Steurerle, by his repeated reference to the "small" surplus and the $10T in liabilities was obviously trying to show that the system was in crisis and paper over the disastrous results of Bush's tremendous profligacy (and Democrats before him, to a much lesser degree), just what Bush wants people to believe in order to sell his dishonest plan. By pretending to try to inform, while obfuscating, they can avoid attacks by the Cato Institute and other radicals trying to achieve a phase-out of Social Security...

I think Conan is very consciously trying not to appear too "liberal" and to very carefully cultivates his "conservative" side in issues discussions to the detriment of informing the public.

We have no way to know, but that’s not our impression. Incomparably, we penned a reply:
REPLY: I'm inclined to disagree. As far as I know, Steurerle is not pro-privatization, and all his statements seemed to make some sort of sense—but he seems to have no ability to speak in ways average people can understand. RE the trust fund: The trust fund actually is a fairly small part of the overall, long-range funding situation. Given all the spin about “worthless IOUs” and “the money has already been spent,” I'm not sure which way it cuts to point that out to people. Meanwhile, I don’t know what he meant when he referred to “the liabilities of the system which are well in excess of $10 trillion." Was he referring to the system’s unfunded liabilities (over infinite time), which is a tortured GOP spin-point? There’s no way to know. He didn’t use the word “unfunded,” and he didn’t explain what he meant. As with almost everything he said, this statement was essentially incoherent.

Meanwhile, many people like Conan really are confused by the logic of this discussion. And it isn't hard to see why they are; there is no one, including Baker and Weisbrot, who has ever tried to reduce these discussions to understandable formats. Through well-funded “think tanks” and store-bought polemicists, conservatives work hard to create and spread conceptual confusion; it's a well-funded, well-staffed priority. In response, liberals stare into air. Where are the Conans supposed to go to see these confusing matters explained?

We’ll offer more on this theme in the weeks ahead. But liberals and Democrats need to create effective anti-spin campaigns, created by effective anti-spin shops. It’s easy to create conceptual confusion, and it’s hard to untangle such chaos. But liberals and Democrats rarely try; instead, some bloggers bang pots together because Paul Krugman once used the word “personal.” Boys against men! Year after year, this has been the secret story of how pseudo-cons have won these debates.