A way to peer into the past: Today’s young children are pretty much horrible journalists.
The adults of the last generation may have been even worse. Consider what happened just one week ago when Paul Krugman took part in the roundtable segment on ABC’s This Week.
Unfortunately, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) was also present. Johnson, a former polyester and plastics mogul, soon uttered familiar sounds:
JOHNSON (3/10/13): To say that the Republicans haven't done anything is just false. The House has actually passed budgets—you know, with proposals to, to try and save Medicare, bipartisan proposals, quite honestly. The Senate hasn't passed a budget in over four years.It drives Johnson nuts to hear that Social Security is solvent through 2035. He says it’s “going broke.”
Listen, unless we do something, these programs are going broke. It drives me nuts. When I, when I hear people say that Social Security is solvent to the year 2035, it's not.
A bit later, Krugman tried to respond, and Johnson’s emissions grew worse:
KRUGMAN: The Social Security thing: Social Security is—there—it has a dedicated revenue base. It has a trust fund based on that dedicated revenue base. You can't change the rules midstream and say, oh suddenly—The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it! It’s like you wrote a check to yourself! The trust fund is just an accounting fiction! The program will soon be bankrupt or broke!
JOHNSON: See here's, here's the problem—
KRUGMAN: You can't—
JOHNSON: Here's the problem with the trust fund. The federal government owns U.S. Treasury bonds. It's the same thing as if you have $20, you spend it. And by the way, that money is spent, it's gone. You write yourself a note for $20, stick it in your pocket and say, “I got 20 bucks.”
No, you don't. You, you have a note that you have to sell in the open market. The trust fund is a fiction, it doesn't, it's— It has no value.
What did viewers think when they heard these statements by Johnson? Presumably, different people heard different things, but one point is blindingly clear:
If you live in the United States, you have been hearing those claims for decades. And even now, from our brightest player, what follows is pretty much the best our team ever does in rebuttal.
We use the official transcript:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): No, if you want to think of Social Security as not just being part of the government, then there's no such thing as a Social Security problem, it's just part of the general budget. You, you cannot say on the one hand—The chain of interruptions proceeded from there, but you may get the basic idea.
JOHNSON: And it's—
KRUGMAN: —Social Security is a—
JOHNSON: —and it's promise—
KRUGMAN: —on the other hand we're going to restrict it to only operating off of—
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: George—
KRUGMAN: I mean it's important to realize that the facts that are being brought out here are, in fact, non-facts. And how—
JOHNSON: No, they're absolute facts.
GEORGE WILL: As Pat Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts", and we're going to start this chimeric negotiation from two sides that can't agree on the most basic thing—
Part of the problem here lies with Stephanopoulos, who has never seen an interruption that he didn’t like. It keeps the appearance of discussion moving!
That said, the largest problem lies with the liberal world of the past thirty years.
Can we talk? By light years, Krugman is our most valuable player. But even he doesn’t have a crisp, strong way to reply to the hoary old claim that the trust find is just an accounting fiction—that the money is no longer there.
Nor is that Krugman’s fault. People have heard that hoary old set of claims for at least three decades now—but our side still has no rebuttal! The sloth and incompetence of many people has created this state of affairs.
To this day, Krugman doesn’t know what to say in response to that famous old bullroar. But that isn’t Krugman’s fault.
One player can’t solve every problem for liberals, although we’ve been willing to let Krugman try. In this case, thirty years of liberal and mainstream sloth are there for all to see.
Johnson is clueless, but he comes from a world whose entities have spent thirty years advancing that familiar set of scripts: The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it! The trust find is just a fiction!
Krugman is very, very sharp, but the rest of his team has been sleeping. They haven’t created a sharp, clear rebuttal.
They’ve slept for the past thirty years.