Part 4—Do we know how to talk pork to the people: Lori Montgomery omitted few points in her long, alarmist screed concerning Social Security. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/11.
A long list of standard talking-points have disinformed the American people about this program down through the years. Eventually, the Post reporter made her way to the grand-daddy of them all:
MONTGOMERY (10/30/11): "The federal government is saying, 'We're in the red right now and we're having trouble paying back Social Security, so we'd like to cut Social Security benefits,’ ” Certner said. "But that's not the deal."Where in the world do they find these “professors?” Professor Mitchell ought to driven deep into the forest for making the ridiculous claim that “the fact is, there's no money available to pay for those benefits.” (We’re assuming she was quoted fairly.) But before Montgomery recorded that statement, she channeled the piece of disinformation which towers above all the rest.
Others argue that the deal has long since been abandoned and that the trust fund has become a fiction of accounting. "We can debate until the cows come home whether there's really a trust fund or not," said Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who served on a 2001 presidential commission to study Social Security. "But the fact is, there's no money available to pay for those benefits. And the system is short on cash now.”
“The trust fund is just an accounting fiction!” This persuasive, disinformative claim has given birth to so many others! They include “The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!” and that talking-point’s near-relation, “The trust fund is just a pile of worthless IOUs!”
The trust fund is just an accounting fiction! This talking-point and its bastard offspring have served to mislead the American public for the past thirty years. Almost every key piece of disinformation about the Social Security program has involved the status of the trust fund, not the basic functioning of the program itself.
But so what! During that thirty-year period, we liberals have fiddled and diddled and toyed with ourselves, napping pleasurably in the woods while praising ourselves for our obvious brilliance. As we’ve burbled, snored and self-deluded, these unrebutted talking-points have created a world in which reams of voters are convinced that the program simply “won’t be there for them.”
These voters have been disinformed through the efforts of two major sectors. They have been disinformed in these two major ways:
1) Through aggressive attempts to disinform driven by major plutocrat sectors. And:
2) Through the uselessness of our “liberal” elites, the laziest, most worthless mother-frackers who ever drew breath on the planet.
What’s the reaction from someone like Digby? People like Digby react to this history by mocking the dumbness of “those people,” while praising us for our wondrous morals and our vast intellectual insight. Consider the way this tribal true believer reacted to Montgomery’s gruesome report in the Post.
Digby did what true believers will always do in this era—she reacted by cutting-and-pasting the words of her tribe’s highest priests. “I'll let Dean Baker do the honors,” she unhelpfully said. And then, she cut-and-pasted a nine-paragraph chunk of Baker’s lengthy blog post about Montgomery's groaner.
As we noted yesterday, Baker is one of the very few liberal heroes in this area. Quite literally, he wrote the book about the fraudulence of the Social Security “crisis.” That said, Baker is an actual expert on economics—and he tends to be a bit abstruse, as experts often are. But Digby made no attempt to simplify or explain what he said—something like that would be hard work, and it would take real skill. Instead, she simply block-quoted the bulk of his piece, helpfully telling us this: “Read on. It gets worse.”
She then block-quoted Krugman too. Krugman had written this:
KRUGMAN (10/30/11): In legal terms, the program is funded not just by today’s payroll taxes, but by accumulated past surpluses—the trust fund. If there’s a year when payroll receipts fall short of benefits, but there are still trillions of dollars in the trust fund, what happens is, precisely, nothing—the program has the funds it needs to operate, without need for any Congressional action.Krugman’s explanation wasn’t “wrong.” It was something worse—it was useless. Krugman has been our side’s greatest hero in the past dozen years, but this is one area where he hasn’t done a good job talking pork to the people. As Krugman noted in his post, he has offered this explanation “repeatedly in the past.” Unfortunately, every time he does so, he offers a chain of reasoning so abstruse that it simply can’t be used to explain this situation to average voters.
Alternatively, you can think about Social Security as just part of the federal budget. But in that case, it’s just part of the federal budget; it doesn’t have either surpluses or deficits, no more than the defense budget.
Both views are valid, depending on what questions you’re trying to answer.
What you can’t do is insist that the trust fund is meaningless, because SS is just part of the budget, then claim that some crisis arises when receipts fall short of payments, because SS is a standalone program. Yet that’s exactly what the WaPo claims.
Do you think Digby could explain those four paragraphs? Crackers, please!
Paul Krugman hasn't yet been able to make this topic easy-to-follow. To state the obvious, this isn’t a moral failure on his part—it’s a failure of communication. Krugman has explained a lot of things well. Social Security isn’t among them.
Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve come to loathe the moral tone of Digby’s site—the denigration of those people, the broken-souled focus on telling ourselves that we folk over here in our tribe are always morally and intellectually right. In fact, we in our tribe aren’t always right; beyond that, we are among the dumbest, most self-impressed people who ever drew breath on the planet. We've had our asses kicked for thirty years by a transparent disinformation machine—by low-grade tribunes like Sean Hannity. In response, people like Digby cut-and-paste incoherent rebuttals and tell us “those people” are racists. This provides our side with soothing therapy—and it doesn’t help progressive interests at all.
Without question, Krugman and Baker have been two of our side’s most admirable players. But they haven’t done a good job making this critical program understandable for average voters.
The other side has misled those voters for decades; we’ve snored in the woods and we’ve fiddled and diddled. Our side simply isn’t real smart—and their side has just kept taking advantage. In response, Digby keeps saying we’re great. Ain't tribal therapy grand!
The good news is, it’s fairly easy to talk pork to the people about the Social Security program, as long as we know how to deal with those trust fund-related deceptions. Kevin Drum knows a major part of the answer; he explained it in this recent post. And Baker keeps explaining one of the ways to talk pork to the people regarding our alleged debt/deficit crisis. This is an area where Baker has helped make a key topic easy-to-explain.
Tomorrow, we’ll outline the ways our pitiful side should be talking pork to the people. That said, this is happening some thirty years later. Is there a dumber group than we liberals? Is any group lazier or more self-impressed? We really need to get over ourselves—we who get our keisters kissed at Digby’s therapeutic site.
Tomorrow: Truthfully, not all that hard