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Trouble In Phase-Out Land

A correspondent who's been attending CPAC emails in with some thoughts based on what he's heard from speakers about the Social Security Phase-Out plan:

A few general points I noted:

1) The pro-phase-out people know they're seriously off-message and have lost control of the debate. There's some major finger-pointing going on, with hard-liners blaming those who worry that SS privatization will run up deficits, etc. for "hijacking" the debate. They're lamenting the fact that people are talking about deficits, benefit cuts and raising taxes, when they should be talking about all the benefits of privatization.

2) There is an attempt to re-align the talking points around helping lower-income workers(!) with the benefits of huge market returns thanks to privatization, around the "tremendous problems" SS faces, around the idea that the trust fund money has all been spent, and around the idea that at least pro-phase-out people have ideas to fix the problems, and those against (liberals and Democrats) have none. Nothing really new, but they know it's what they have to emphasize.

3) A lot of the material I heard seemed focused on raising morale and convincing conservatives that SS privatization is a fight they can win.

4) The privateers know what's at stake--namely, that if they win, enacting the rest of their agenda will be smooth sailing, and if they lose, their entire agenda will be dealt a very serious blow.

"Privateers" is a good name. Of the various pro-phaseout arguments glossed in section 2), I note that the argument that liberals have no ideas for Social Security reform is the least true and also totally irrelevant. That, therefore, is the pro-phaseout argument I worry about. The Big Lie, as we've been seeing, is a very effective tactic.

February 20, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Yeah - the big bill being pushed is the Ryan-Sununu act. The big line is that every second without investment in the stock market is a second of compound interest being stolen from taxpayers.

Posted by: Zoidberg | Feb 20, 2005 7:59:50 PM

This whole thing has been so weird that I wonder if there isn't some backstory. So it could be

1. An enormous, clumsy overreach. That doesn't sound Rovian.

2. A big gamble they knew probably wouldn't succeed. The fact that they had the Democrats defending the New Deal itself is pretty impressive.

3. A bargaining chip. (The most likely, to me).

4. A diversion while they get something else underway (probably military action against Iran or Iraq). Can't rule it out.

For the record, I've called Bush stupid often enough, but never Rove. And I really doubt that Bush is stupid in the strict sense, just a shrewd anti-intellectual good ol boy pimping the peanut gallery.

Posted by: John Emerson | Feb 20, 2005 8:02:44 PM

For the record, I've called Bush stupid often enough, but never Rove. And I really doubt that Bush is stupid in the strict sense, just a shrewd anti-intellectual good ol boy pimping the peanut gallery.

Junior has been a privateer for at least 25+ years. JMM cited a 1970's TX journalist who had Bush on record saying the SS would be DOA in the '80s if it was not privatized.

As for Rove, he smells a chance to create a FDR like legacy with the ownership society, all the while neutering SS as a "Democratic" issue.

This is part of the GOP permanent majority agenda. They've got the Democrats on the electoral ropes and they had hoped that this would be the knockout punch. Unfortunately for them, the Dems still have a good right hook.

Posted by: def | Feb 20, 2005 8:42:06 PM


The ownership society...ah, yes, I've always maintained we should know who our owners are.

Posted by: Blue Iris | Feb 20, 2005 8:50:22 PM

Where this is going: the NY Times is reporting that a pro-phase out lobbying group (USA Next) is hiring the advisors to the Swift Boat liars to attack the AARP. It's only going to get uglier...

Posted by: Alex R | Feb 20, 2005 9:27:10 PM

Campus Progress.org has a lot of good stuff on CPAC. In fact, you might call them the clearinghouse for info on CPAC. VisitorFromEarth's stuff is really terrific, as is Rachel Goodman's dynamite deconstruction of CPAC's absurdity. And I really find Asheesh Siddique's three-part series on "Debating the Campus Right" very compelling.

The only thing missing: a review of the quality of the food at CPAC! :)

Posted by: on cpac | Feb 20, 2005 9:35:08 PM

Instead of responding to the big lie we see coming,

we should propagate the Big Truth.

The Bush Administration has secret plans to cut social security benefits that they will not tell anyone.

If we can hammer them on the fact that they are keeping their plans secret long enough, they will have to actually say what they want to do.

They sometimes deign drop assorted hints to the public about their secret proposals and expect us to present a detailed counterproposal?

The audacity!!!

Posted by: James Knox | Feb 20, 2005 9:53:59 PM

Letting Bush save Social Security is letting the fox rebuild the chickencoop: he would as soon tear it down.

Bush will save Social Security like he saved seniors money on drugs.

Be warned true conservatives: Bush doesn't believe it's a sin to saddle the government with vast new entitlements as long as your tax dollars are siphoned through big businesses.

Posted by: epistemology | Feb 20, 2005 9:53:59 PM

cut out the part about "social security benefits" and replace it with "end social security as we know it"

Posted by: James Knox | Feb 20, 2005 9:56:04 PM

Bush and Rove have over-reached on this one. It will go down in flames, and Bush will be a lame duck, remembered for allowing 9/11, two failed wars, and a dirty campaign.

And his domestic legacy will be the prescription drug bill which did nothing for seniors and everything for his pharmaceutical company masters.

Posted by: epistemology | Feb 20, 2005 9:59:24 PM

A New Target for Advisers to Swift Vets
By GLEN JUSTICE - New York Times

Lobbyists have hired consultants of the Swift Vets campaign to assail an opponent of the president's Social Security plan.

Posted by: anne | Feb 20, 2005 10:18:53 PM

The underlying problem for the conservative movement is that it has a radical agenda for America, but the majority of the public does not support it. Yes, conservatives outnumber liberals at the polls, but the biggest group is moderates.

Because it lacks the votes, conservatives try to get their programs passed through tricks, like saying you are working to save Social Security when you are really trying to destroy it.

If the voters get wise to what is going on, and the Democrats make a play for the middle like Clinton did, the conservative movement could find itself in very big trouble.

Posted by: Les B | Feb 20, 2005 10:24:36 PM

I love it. They ran this thing up the flagpole and everyone is shooting at it!

One thing I don't understand is why they think anyone would be excited about the prospect of making big money in the U.S. stock market. The Dow is about what it was when Bush took office, the S&P 500 is substantially less, and few expect much improvement in the near future.

Posted by: bad Jim | Feb 20, 2005 10:30:00 PM

John:There's a simple word for it. Hubris.

These guys really believed their own hype. I think what they thought, was that by launching this first, they could take advantage of a demoralized Democratic party/Progressive grassroots and kind of force this thing through.

They were wrong.

Posted by: Karmakin | Feb 20, 2005 11:00:43 PM

It will fail and while everyone is resting after the battle and not paying attention, they will slip through something else just as bad. Also, Republicans as the party of ideas, Democrats as the party of cranky obstruction will be the theme in 2006.

Posted by: Toadmonster | Feb 20, 2005 11:05:55 PM

The underlying problem for the conservative movement is that it has a radical agenda for America, but the majority of the public does not support it. Yes, conservatives outnumber liberals at the polls, but the biggest group is moderates.

Because it lacks the votes, conservatives try to get their programs passed through tricks, like saying you are working to save Social Security when you are really trying to destroy it.

Bingo, Les B.

The same thing happened with Gingrich and the "contract with America". These guys can't get it through their thick heads that only a minority of the public supports their radical fiscal agenda. It's the same minority that believe Franklin Roosevelt was one of our worst presidents rather than one of our best, and has been obsessing about the New Deal since the 30's. The Republican coalition is built in good part of social and religious conservatives, driven by God-and country nationalism and a fear of liberal social values, and those guys don't all wet their pants over taxes and government spending the way the privateers and deregulators do.

Of course, everyone gripes about taxes and spending to some extent. (For example, I gripe about military spending.) But we all gripe about different taxes and different spending. That shouldn't be mistaken for a majority coalition to slash spending and re-write the social contract across the board, or to create a radically individualistic "ownership society".

The Republicans also miscalculated that they were only going to have to fight the scaredy-cat Democrats in Congress, who never know their own strength, rather than smart and confident blogospheroids like Matt and Will Marshall who got all over this issue, informed the public, rallied the troops and showed the national leaders which side really had the goods, and how to get on message.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Feb 20, 2005 11:13:24 PM

Josh has been a bit tedious since he got on Social Security...

Posted by: bad Jim | Feb 20, 2005 11:19:56 PM

Where this is going: the NY Times is reporting that a pro-phase out lobbying group (USA Next) is hiring the advisors to the Swift Boat liars to attack the AARP. It's only going to get uglier...

If this goes something like the Swift Boat fiasco, the privateers will soon be arguing that all of those gray, wrinkled members AARP aren't really old and aren't really retired; that they are actually young and working; that their birth certifites are all forgeries; that rich kids who never worked, and who seem to be living off Dad's wealth are America's true retirees; and that AARP members have betrayed their country by publicly criticizing the government for failing to take care of the elderly in the same msnner as other industrialized countries - thus giving aid and comfort to our despicable European, social-safety-net-loving enemies. I'll bet Jane Fonda is a member of the AARP too!

And then about 40% of the country will believe them.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Feb 20, 2005 11:29:24 PM

Ooops...thanks bad jim. That's Josh, not Will.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Feb 20, 2005 11:30:51 PM

They have gazillions of dollars to spend hawking this program, and they haven't even begun yet.If these guys would spend half the amount of energy and money doing useful things as they do destroying human beings and everything else thay think doesn't impact them, the world would have already solved poverty and ended the prospect of war for generations to come. What a waste.

Posted by: wishful | Feb 21, 2005 12:33:18 AM

Dick Morris says that SS privatization will pass because the people it affects are more passionately for it than the people it doesn't affect(the elderly) are against it.

Morris tends to be politically astute, so he could be right here.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Feb 21, 2005 2:36:01 AM

The problem with SS privatization for Republicans is that most people view Social Security as the safest part of their portfolio. They already invest in mutual funds and 401(k)s and they know, from recent experience, that the market doesn't ALWAYS perform well. In fact, because a set amount of income is guaranteed at retirement people have the freedom to take risks on the stock market with the rest of their portfolio. That's the tack we should be taking: Social Security as it is now is the best way for people to take advantage of the market. Without the guarantee of Social Security people will feel less willing to risk everything in the stock market.

Posted by: Elrod | Feb 21, 2005 2:37:25 AM

Dick Morris is a toe-sucker, and a dick.

I did try sucking toes once. It was worse than tasting a carbon-zinc battery, which I did as a child, twice (slow learner) but the woman in question maintained fond relations with me for a while (if you count Christmas cards).

Mexican cuisine still has me in its thrall, and from time to time I add a chile to top the pico de gallo.

Posted by: bad Jim | Feb 21, 2005 3:52:29 AM

Dick Morris is frequently wrong.

I think the point is that conservatives do not agree amongst themselves about what to do to destroy Social Security. The hallmark of their successful strategies has been the ability to get disparate groups to sing off the same page of the hymnal, even when contrary to their interests. In this case, fiscally responsible conservatives (yes, Virginia they still exist) are the ones asking the embarrassing questions that start the derailment process, never mind the moderate left that, surprisingly to even me, gets that ending SS is actually a bad thing.

Until conservatives can get their unity act back together, this thing has almost no chance. And that failure to unify has long term ramifications. And Dems, who are not unity types (in the military-lockstep sense), can benefit from the failure. Yes, it will get way, way uglier. But don't be surprised if some of that pulling ugly boomerangs onto some unlikely conservatives who refuse to play ball. And there's a certain point where all the ugliness and vitriol comes back and hurts the folks who purvey it. And that moment, for me, can't come soon enough.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 21, 2005 7:38:38 AM

There was an article in the NYT Sunday business section describing the growing disenchantment with stock market investing among pension fund managers.

Posted by: Bob H | Feb 21, 2005 7:38:53 AM

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