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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Selling Social Security

posted by Ron Beasley at 1/18/2005 09:32:00 AM


We had discussed a few weeks ago how the administration planned to sell Social Security Reform like it sold the Iraq war. Today Paul Krugman addresses this topic. After a brief summary on the selling of the war he talks about Social Security and discusses how the same tactics may not work this time.
White House officials themselves concede - or maybe boast - that their plan to sell Social Security privatization is modeled on their selling of the Iraq war. In fact, the parallels are remarkably exact.

Everyone has noticed the use, once again, of crisis-mongering. Three years ago, the supposed threat from Saddam somehow became more important than catching the people who actually attacked America on 9/11. Today, the mild, possibly nonexistent long-run financial problems of Social Security have somehow become more important than dealing with the huge deficit we already have, which has nothing to do with Social Security.

But there's another parallel, which I haven't seen pointed out: the politicization of the agencies and the intimidation of the analysts. Bush loyalists begin frothing at the mouth when anyone points out that the White House pressured intelligence analysts to overstate the threat from Iraq, while neocons in the Pentagon pressured the military to understate the costs and risks of war. But that is what happened, and it's happening again.

Last week Andrew Biggs, the associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration, appeared with Mr. Bush at a campaign-style event to promote privatization. There was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate for a civil servant to play such a blatantly political role. But then there was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate to appoint a professional advocate like Mr. Biggs, the former assistant director of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Privatization, to such a position in the first place.

Sure enough, The New York Times reports that under Mr. Biggs's direction, employees of the Social Security Administration are being forced to disseminate dire warnings about the system's finances - warnings that the employees say are exaggerated.
Just like the run up to the war dissenting opinions are being silenced and lapdog officials are being used to spread the lies and spin. But will it work this time?
Still, there are two reasons why the selling of Social Security privatization shouldn't be another slam dunk.

One is that we're not talking about secret intelligence; the media, if they do their job, can check out the numbers and see that they don't match what Mr. Bush is saying. (A good starting point is
Roger Lowenstein's superb survey in The Times Magazine last Sunday.)
The other is that we've been here before. Fool me once ...
It would appear that some of the MSM is doing it's job this time. Of course you have that Republican hack rag the Wall Street Journal which will continue to tow the party line and what can we say about FOX. Disney owned ABC continues to give us news from Fantasy Land but there have been some bright points from the Times and MSNBC.