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Daily Howler: What happens when Bush misleads the rubes? Joe Klein simply lies in our faces
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IT’S SO EASY (PART 4)! What happens when Bush misleads the rubes? Joe Klein simply lies in our faces: // link // print // previous // next //

BORN TO LOSE: Wow! This morning’s papers simply jump with items about Bush’s relentless dissembling. The Post and the Times both write editorials about the Bush Admin’s budget deceptions—and the Post, on page one, has a lengthy piece which records the results of this ongoing process. “Poll Finds Misconceptions on Social Security,” the report’s inside headline says. But then, why would anyone be surprised by the fact that voters are misinformed? Bush has been parading around, misleading the public at every turn—and the public’s stewards, the Washington “press corps,” has routinely stared off into air. Why should anyone be surprised to find that the public is clueless?

We’ll discuss this intriguing report on the morrow. But for today, let’s excerpt two parts of Richard Morin’s report. First, note the way younger voters are thinking:

MORIN (2/10/05): [P]eople younger than 55 are about twice as likely to say the system is in crisis than older adults...

"I'm expecting to live on my own savings. I'm going to prepare for the worst so I don't get in trouble," said Sarah Kirby, 19, a political science and history major at Marquette University who said she believes Social Security is "outdated" because it did not anticipate the longevity of today's seniors.

Benjamin Palmer, 23, general manager of a Pizza Hut in New Brighton, Pa., also said he expects Social Security to run out before he retires. "Who cares?" Palmer said of the risk involved in stock investments. "People my age have no guarantee now that Social Security will be there for us. So it would be more than we've got now."

Let’s say it again: Palmer’s reaction is precisely what Bush’s dissembling has been all about. His cohort has been told, again and again, that Social Security won’t be there for them—so they’re ready to accept a massive change in the system, no matter how risky the new system might be. But now consider another point, earlier in Morin’s report:
MORIN: Americans seem not to change their views when the president's plan is characterized as a "private" rather than a "personal" investment account—a change from earlier studies, in which the use of "private accounts" or "privatization" drove down support. Either way, a modest majority favored the proposal, the survey found.
“Private” accounts vs. “personal” accounts? It doesn’t seem to matter which locution is used, the Post says.

So let’s see: “Personal vs private” is totally trivial. “Won’t be there for them” is driving the discourse. But which talking-point have you read about more as you’ve toured the liberal web in recent weeks? On the liberal web, we have wasted oodles of time on the trivial, personal vs. private matter. And in our view, the liberal web has largely failed to focus on the key spin-points which drive this debate.

As we have said, we’ve read mountains of superlative work about SS on the liberal web. But over the course of the past several years, we’ve been troubled by the liberal web’s failure to focus on sound-bites that matter—the sound-bites that actually drive our debates. Some of you are deeply offended that we would dare to say such a thing. Born to lose, we say in reply. The Democratic Party is too inept to form a winning set of messages, and the mainstream press corps is store-bought, asleep. The liberal web must take the lead if liberals and centrists will form useful messages. Next week, we’ll note a few of the basic ways we think we have all failed to do that.

IT’S SO EASY (PART 4): How easy is it for President Bush to disinform voters about Social Security? Disinforming is very easy with Big Tools like Joe Klein around. The headline on Klein’s current column in Time: “The Incredible Shrinking Democrats.” Try to believe that he actually wrote it—and that Time really put it in print:

KLEIN (2/14/05): The Democrats are having trouble with graciousness these days...Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi diminished themselves by staging an unnecessary pre-buttal and a misleading rebuttal to the President's [State of the Union Address]. Reid's claim that George W. Bush would reduce Social Security benefits 40% was hogwash. The President has merely stated the obvious, that reductions will be necessary. Reid also made the absurd comparison between Bush's very conservative investment-account proposal and Las Vegas gaming tables.
Amazing, isn’t it? In fact, Reid said that Bush would replace the current “guaranteed benefit” with a “guaranteed benefit cut of up to 40 percent.” And of course, Reid is perfectly right about that, even if Bush keeps hiding the ball, and even if millionaire pundits like Klein are there to help Dear Leader do it. But then, try to believe what Klein said next—and try to believe that Time printed it:
KLEIN (continuing directly): Finally, there was the boorish and possibly unprecedented hooting of the President by Democrats during the speech.

"No! No! No!" they shouted, inaccurately, when Bush asserted that the Social Security trust fund would, in a decade or so, start paying out more money than it takes in. If nothing is done, it surely will.

Except no, the “hooting” wasn’t unprecedented, and no, the shouting didn’t occur when Bush made the accurate statement Klein cites. The shouts of “No” quite clearly occurred when Bush made a wildly misleading mis-statement: “By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/05). How easy is to disinform voters? With fallen life-forms like Klein on call, it’s amazingly easy to do so. What’s the state of our current discourse? It isn’t just that mainstream journalists fail to challenge Bush’s misstatements. No, it’s now much worse than that—when Bush deliberately misleads the public, men like Klein simply pretend that he said something else! How easy is it to disinform voters? Many voters will read Klein this week, and for their trouble, he’ll lie in their face about what his Dear Leader said. (To read Thomas Lang’s superb treatment of Klein’s piece, you know what to do—just click here.)

Of course, no one should be surprised to see Klein misbehave so inexcusably. Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve chronicled Klein’s descent from journalist to pundit plutocrat over the course of the past five years, and because Klein is a powerful “mainstream journalist,” it’s been fairly lonely duty. But Klein just presents an especially advanced form of the “mainstream” press corps’ moral squalor. How easy is it for Bush to disinform voters? Here’s the way Nicholas Kristof began his column in last Saturday’s New York Times:

KRISTOF (2/5/05): Liberals are making a historic mistake by lining up so adamantly against Social Security reform.

It's impolite to say so in a blue state, but President Bush has a point: there is a genuine problem with paying for Social Security, even if it isn't as dire as Mr. Bush suggests.

Only Kristof can work so much nonsense into a two-sentence opening. Liberals are “lining up adamantly against Social Security reform,” he says, an opening claim he never quite explains, and he includes an idiot jibe about “blue states” in the process. But just how easy is it for Bush? For the previous week, the president had been parading about, making a series of bald misstatements about the nature of his “reform” and about the actual problem itself. Kristof’s response is to criticize Democrats, while appending a mild disclaimer. The problem “isn’t as dire as Mr. Bush suggests,” he says, in a column whose headline screams—as Klein’s headline does—that the “liberals” are mainly at fault. George Bush can disinform you as much as he likes with pious tools like Nick Kristof around.

Klein exhibits moral squalor; Kristof is simply a serial coward, a man who always finds a way to say that it’s mainly the Democrats’ fault. But all around the Washington press corps, his approach has prevailed in the past few weeks. How easy is it to disinform voters? Just try to find the big-time pundit complaining about Bush’s relentless deceptions! More likely, you’ll find the outright misstatements of a Joe Klein, or the slacker, Dem-bashing standards of Kristof. More likely, you’ll find the slacker moral values of a recent Washington Post editorial:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (2/1/05): [A] bit of hyperbole in the cause of generating responsible action on Social Security isn't the worst sin that is apt to be committed in the course of the coming debate.
After noting Bush’s misstatements, that was the editors’ closing judgment. A bit of hyperbole isn’t that bad! Post to Bush: Just keep on misleading.

Today, nine days later, the Post and the Times both pen editorials about Bush’s endless dissembling. And what a surprise! The Post, on page one, prints a long piece about the way the voters are misinformed about Social Security! Tomorrow, we’ll offer more thoughts about the press corps’ recent conduct. But how easy is it for Bush to mislead you? George Stephanopoulos sings McCain’s praise when the famous straight-talker lies right in his face—and Joe Klein, plutocrat, is there to lie too. It’s amazingly easy to mislead the rubes with men of this type all around.

IT’S ALWAYS BEEN EASY: All of a sudden, the mainstream press corps and many liberal bloggers are up in arms about the way the Admin plays a slick “decade” game. Hay-yo! If you want it to seem like your budget proposals don’t add up to very much, just phase them in over a ten-year period—then provide a ten-year cost estimate which includes a couple of years when the program in question won’t be running! The Post and the Times slam this practice this morning. And to see Noam Scheiber tear it apart, you know what to do—just click here.

But this has been Bush’s MO from the start, as we’ve noted again and again. During Campaign 2000, for example, Bush disguised the size of his controversial tax cut by employing this same slick procedure. The cut would go into effect in 2002—but when the Bush campaign reported its size, they provided a “ten-year cost” starting with the year 2001! This allowed them to report a smaller size for the tax cut—$1.3 trillion, they kept insisting. Gore reported a more representative figure—$1.6 trillion or $1.9 trillion, depending on whether you added in the cost of fixing the AMT. (Without adjusting the AMT, many tax-payers would never receive the tax cuts Bush was describing.)

Yep—Slick Georgie was playing this game even then. But how easy is it to mislead the voters? The evening after Bush and Gore’s first debate, Ted Koppel appeared on Larry King Live. First, King played tape of Candidate Bush ridiculing one of Gore’s accurate statements. And then, an amazing thing occurred when Larry asked Ted to explain that butt-simple tax cut discrepancy:

BUSH (videotape): Look, this is a man, he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math!

KING (10/4/00): OK. Were you impressed with this “fuzzy math,” “top 1 percent,” “1.3 trillion, 1.9 trillion” bit?

KOPPEL: You know, honestly, it turns my brains to mush. I can't pretend for a minute that I'm really able to follow the argument of the debates. Parts of it, yes. Parts of it, I haven't a clue what they're talking about.

Amazing, isn’t it? Koppel should have resigned the next day. But guess what? Five years later, the Post and the Times have begun to complain about the way Bush plays this slick decade-game. Next time, they might state an obvious point—it’s been easy for Bush to do this with slackers like Koppel around.