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Obstructionism and Conspiracies

Last time I was just a smidge slow in implementing the always-link-to-Jon-Chait policy around here, he started complaining via email, so why not get a jump on thinks and link to the principled case for obstructionism on Social Security? The argument is good, though probably not entirely novel to readers of this site and the rest of the liberal blogosphere. On top of the piece's main argument is the observation that "to the Washington establishment, the suggestion that conservatives essentially want to do away with Social Security is something close to a lunatic conspiracy theory." One interesting question is why this is, since as Jon lays out, it's perfectly obvious that this is what conservatives want to do. Fundamentally, I think the stuff Jon discussed back in his case against reporting article is the key here.

Something like 99 percent of what you need to know about what's "really going on" in Washington is 100 percent discernable to anyone with access to Google, Nexis, and some time on their hands. There are no real conspiracies here. Or, rather, they're conspiracies out in the open. You just need to go back and look at who's getting appointed to what jobs and what those people used to write and say before they were in government. That "personal accounts" are part of a plan to eliminate Social Security is every bit as evident from the public record as was the fact that the motives for the Iraq War did not, fundamentally, have anything to do with September 11, 2001. Yet there's an obsession in media circles with paying attention to what everyone's doing and saying right now that tends to distract from the much more interesting and relevant information lurking around in the not-so-distant past.

March 10, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

"Yet there's an obsession in media circles with paying attention to what everyone's doing and saying right now"

Back to your recent "he said / she said" post...

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 4:45:49 PM

Republicans have always been in favor of strengthening Social Security via increased personalization.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 10, 2005 4:48:12 PM

Speaking of which, last Sunday when Russert rolled his eyes and rhetorically asked "So you think there's a secret plan to destroy Social Security?" it would have been nice if Krugman would have had the presence of mind to jump in and say, "Well, yes, and the plan is not really much of a secret."

Posted by: fnook | Mar 10, 2005 5:10:01 PM

"increased personalization"

"Q: Ari, does the Administration have any plans to repair the growing number of broken lightbulbs?

"A: I reject the premise of the question. They could be better described as 'opportunitybulbs'."

(From Ted Barlow's enlightening collection):

http://tedbarlow.blogspot.com/2003_01_12_tedbarlow_archive.html

Posted by: rea | Mar 10, 2005 5:18:13 PM

"Q: Scott, does the Administration have any plans to repair the growing number of broken lightbulbs?

"A: Again, I think it goes back to what the President said in his speech, Terry. You'll have to refer to the President's remarks on this matter, because I think his position on opportunitybulbs has been clear. I'm not going to, you know, make policy from this podium."

Posted by: praktike | Mar 10, 2005 5:33:36 PM

Spot on, praktike.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 6:18:56 PM

And the WH press gaggle is an everday demonstration of the Washington problem, or "Beltway Rules". I just read the long McLellan Q&A about the President saying private accounts were an "add-on". At the end of it, the reporter was not able to get a clear enough statement to even be allowed say that "The President misspoke."

There be lawyers there, and until the President explicitly says "I want to destroy Social Security." the Kleins and Russerts are not allowed, by beltway rules, to even imply that that is the goal.

Or they won't get invited to the good parties.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 10, 2005 6:41:29 PM

"to the Washington establishment, the suggestion that conservatives essentially want to do away with Social Security is something close to a lunatic conspiracy theory"

The weird thing about that is that when I talk about this issue with some conservative friends of mine (who are also just regular non-beltway joes) they are both perfectly aware that phase out is the objective and they have absolutely no problem with it. Its not even a point of contention in our often-turbulent issues conversations.

The turbulence only starts to kick in when I ask how they can square that with their "Bush is a straight shooter who means what he says and says what he means unlike a certain dirtball from Arkansas" narrative.

Posted by: Alden | Mar 10, 2005 7:02:00 PM

What the hell is Russert's problem? I wouldn't exactly tell him to think what I think, but suggesting that privatization advocates want to end Social Security is about as radical as suggesting Hillary Clinton favors socialized health care. And I doubt Russert would cock his enormous head in derision were someone to say that.

In any case, I heard Steny Hoyer and some other Democrats openly saying the privatization crowd wants to end SocSec, in clips that were then played on Fox News. So maybe if Democrats keep saying it, reporters will notice that many, many conservative power brokers have been shouting it from the goddamn rooftops.

Posted by: Dave Weigel | Mar 10, 2005 7:17:53 PM

until the President explicitly says "I want to destroy Social Security." the Kleins and Russerts are not allowed, by beltway rules, to even imply that that is the goal.

There is a way out of the box.

If the Democratic talking points are to repeatedly say some variation of:

"The President's private accounts are his way to destroy Social Security"

Then the Kleins and Russerts are forced to report that as part of the "He said / She said" journalism rules.

The Reid operation isn't playing it quite that way, and I think they're wrong not to be.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 7:30:19 PM

Dave Weigel plagiarized my thought process before I wrote it...

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 7:32:19 PM

"Then the Kleins and Russerts are forced to report that as part of the "He said / She said" journalism rules."

President and party in power count way much more. I t would be interesting to go back to see the exact moment that Russert considered himself able to say:"Bill Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinsky."
I suspect only after Bill Clinton's primetime confession.
...
Along these lines, I assume most here have read Chris Hitchens on Ohio. Without asking MY to comment, I really think there is a beltway story behind how gingerly everyone, and I mean everyone, treated voting irregularities in 2004.
A big story.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 10, 2005 7:50:47 PM

"That "personal accounts" are part of a plan to eliminate Social Security is every bit as evident from the public record as was the fact that the motives for the Iraq War did not, fundamentally, have anything to do with September 11, 2001."

You know, there's no logical connection between the buzzer on my alarm clock, and my frying bacon. But the latter strangely seems to be triggered by the former.

In both cases, somebody was woken up, and did what he saw needed doing, even if it had nothing to do with what woke him. It's a simple concept that most people grasp intuitively.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 10, 2005 9:07:19 PM

"It would be interesting to go back to see the exact moment that Russert considered himself able to say:"Bill Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinsky."
I suspect only after Bill Clinton's primetime confession."

As it should have been. It was a disputed question until the map room speech.

And since the leading GOP officeholders weren't claiming such a thing out loud, there was no "He said / She said" for Russert to play off of.

"Along these lines, I assume most here have read Chris Hitchens on Ohio. Without asking MY to comment, I really think there is a beltway story behind how gingerly everyone, and I mean everyone, treated voting irregularities in 2004. A big story."

The big story isn't Ohio in 2004. The big story is that Ohio in 2004 is within the accepted norms of stealing close elections.

The GOP didn't hack the electronic voting. That would be a big story. They just used their control of state government to depress turnout in heavily Democratic areas.

It's almost exactly the same as the election day shenanigans of Florida 2000, and it's not nearly as bad as, say, Illinois 1960.

It's wrong and it should be changed, but it's not a big story because it's S.O.P.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 9:14:33 PM

"In both cases, somebody was woken up, and did what he saw needed doing, even if it had nothing to do with what woke him. It's a simple concept that most people grasp intuitively."

I think what outrages a lot of people on my side of the aisle was the dishonesty in politically selling the war on a connection the administration knew wasn't there.

Many of the multitude of serious strategic and tactical mistakes made in Iraq can be directly traced to selling the war on justifications built on lies.

That's the real Vietnam comparison to me. Good policy rarely is built on lies, and bad policy often is.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 9:23:05 PM

The rules of establishment punditry:

Rule #1: Thou shall not imply that the Democrats are better than the Republicans in any way on any issue

Rule #2: Thou shall not fundamentally challenge by name the character, decency, honesty or integrity of any Republican.

Rule #3: Nobody holds the moral high ground in any policy debate, but Bill Clinton and those associated with him hold the moral low ground.

By these rules, you can can see that Bob Herbert, for example, is not an establishment pundit, while Bill Keller & Nick Kristof are. While Maureen Dowd has bashed Bush, she has taken care never to do so in a way that implies Democrats are any better than Republicans.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Mar 10, 2005 9:33:23 PM

Isn't it possible the media are by and large just a bunch of lazy, incurious nitwits incapable of doing their jobs?

Posted by: steve duncan | Mar 10, 2005 10:23:38 PM

You know, there's no logical connection between the buzzer on my alarm clock, and my frying bacon. But the latter strangely seems to be triggered by the former.

You know, there's no logical connection between the buzzer on my alarm clock, and my frying bacon. But the former still catches me by surprise, even if I'm woken up in advance and given a memo that says "Alarm clock determined to go off in your bedroom." Fortunately, I've already had my staff getting bacon ready to fry, so after failing to turn off the alarm clock, I can tell my neighbors that it's vitally important to fry bacon, or their alarm clocks will go off too.

In both cases, I'm doing something that does nothing to help the event that I am falsely claiming precipitated my actions. It's a deceitful concept that most people swallow gullibly.

Posted by: mds | Mar 10, 2005 10:57:49 PM

"The GOP didn't hack the electronic voting. That would be a big story."

Chris Hitchens

Posted without comment.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 10, 2005 11:06:59 PM

I've read the Hitchens piece. Have you?

Posted by: Petey | Mar 10, 2005 11:12:37 PM

Good Lord, Petey, what do you want?

"No conspiracy theorist, and no fan of John Kerry’s, the author nevertheless found the Ohio polling results impossible to swallow: Given what happened in that key state on Election Day 2004, both democracy and common sense cry out for a court-ordered inspection of its new voting machines"

"I had the chance to spend quality time with someone who came to me well recommended, who did not believe that fraud had yet actually been demonstrated, whose background was in the manufacture of the machines, and who wanted to be anonymous....

"I asked her, finally, what would be the logical grounds for deducing that any tampering had in fact occurred. “Well, I understand from what I have read,” she said, “that the early exit polls on the day were believed by both parties.” That, I was able to tell her from direct experience, was indeed true. But it wasn’t quite enough, either. So I asked, “What if all the anomalies and malfunctions, to give them a neutral name, were distributed along one axis of consistency: in other words, that they kept on disadvantaging only one candidate?” My question was hypothetical, as she had made no particular study of Ohio, but she replied at once: “Then that would be quite serious.”"

Ok, Hitchens is not saying outright:"GOP hacked the machines." All he is saying that he believes there is enough evidence that the machines should be impounded and examined, and he implying that something smells really bad in Ohio.

But this is really old news that has been available for months. And all I am saying is that I find it very curious that the MSM, the punditocracy, and the blogosphere really really don't want to talk about it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 11, 2005 12:00:06 AM

bob: I have no problem talking about the possibility that the GOP hacked the Ohio machines. The problem with these things is that they are complex and it takes an enormous amount of time, effort and dedication to figuring out the true extent of the badness. Like uncovering the intracies of Enron et al.'s manipulation of the California energy markets. The only reason we know how bad it actually was is that the utilities were willing to put millions of dollars into finding out. Who's gonna put up the cash to figure out exactly happened in Ohio?

Posted by: fnook | Mar 11, 2005 12:17:39 AM

Hey, everybody, just drop it. Matt has said he doesn't want this discussed on his blog, and I am sorry I mentioned it. Chris Hitchen's Vanity Fair article wasn't mentioned on many blogs, and I presume they have what they think are good reasons.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 11, 2005 12:23:56 AM

"But this is really old news that has been available for months. And all I am saying is that I find it very curious that the MSM, the punditocracy, and the blogosphere really really don't want to talk about it."

Well, there are multiple reasons that no one wants to talk about it. Perhaps because there are three issues getting conflated:

#1 Republicans hacked the Ohio vote
#2 Electronic machines without paper trails are hackable
#3 You can steal a close election if you control the state government

Now, #1 is untrue, while #2 and #3 are true.

Most of the energy on the left got wasted pursuing issue #1. The story of Ohio 2004 is about #3. And there aren't the votes in Congress to deal with #2, which is where attention really should be focused. But given the confusion on the left about all three issues, I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 11, 2005 12:24:20 AM

"Chris Hitchen's Vanity Fair article wasn't mentioned on many blogs, and I presume they have what they think are good reasons."

Perhaps because Hitchens is a drunken hack, and his article doesn't reveal anything that wasn't already known.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 11, 2005 12:30:57 AM

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