Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bipartisanship, Shields and Brooks version: Let Grandma eat catfood!

Ah, the beauty of bipartisan consensus. Here is the Friday Political Wrap 11/19/2010 segment from the PBS Newshour, featuring "liberal" star pundit Sleepy Mark Shields and conservative columnist/philosopher David "Bobo" Brooks, agreeing that most old people should be poor:

Obviously, all Serious People agree that Social Security should be slashed, even though it's actual problems are minor and easily fixed without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age and even though cutting Social Security would not reduce the federal deficit. From the PBS transcript:

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of all this, Mark, there was a poll that came out, I guess an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, that showed, for all the public message and these midterm elections that they want government spending to be cut, when you raise, specifically, Medicare, Social Security and doing something with taxes, they say, no, no, we don't like that.

MARK SHIELDS: It's the old line about everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

I mean, that's what -- everyone is for general economizing, Judy, but for specific expenditures. And that's why I don't -- I think David's reporting is quite accurate on the subject, but it's going to require a president taking this and making it the central issue of his administration, whether it is this president, the next president, because it -- that is the only way, you make it visible, that all -- everybody is in.

Everybody is in for a nickel and for a dollar, and it's going to cost you and it's going to cost us, but it is going to be better for everybody else. And I think the argument I would make if I were urging Barack Obama to take up this cause is, look, Social Security and Medicare are going to be cut. Who do you want making those cuts?

Do you want Republicans, who have consistently opposed these programs, or do you want somebody and an administration that believes in them and that believes that the people and Social Security and Medicare have to be protected?

And I think that's the case for Democrats. [my emphasis]
I think I hear the sound of Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt clawing their way out of their graves. This is the "liberal" position?!? That Democrats should cut Social Security in order to save it from the Republicans? Does PBS feed these guys Valium before they go on camera?

The Catfood Commission proposals to slash Social Security is a Social Security Phaseout proposal. The Democrats blocked Bush's 2005 Social Security Phaseout scheme to turn the program into a Wall Street slush fund by flat-out opposing it. Defending Social Security against the Republicans was a significant issue in the Democratic wins of 206 and 2008. And while Blue Dog Democrats got pounded in 2010, the ones who made defending Social Security a key issue did better than the let-Grandma-eat-catfood types.

But if a Democratic President successfully pushes through a completely unnecessary cut to Social Security, the political firewall that has always protected Social Security will be gone. It will no longer be the "third rail of American politics", as Sleepy Mark has so often called it. It will be a severe blow to the American social system and to the economy, though even Phaseout advocates like the Catfood Commission currently talk in terms of a delayed implementation of the Social Security Phaseout. Which once again points out the complete uselessness of Social Security Phaseout in boosting the current economy.

Bobo the conservative chimed in to agree in bipartisan fashion with the liberal Sleepy Mark that the only Serious Possibility is for the Democratic Party to adopt the same position on Social Security that was enshrined in the 1936 Republican Platform. But don't think there are no differences between Serious Liberals and Serious Conservatives. Sleepy Mark wants to adopt Social Security Phaseout sorrowfully. Bobo thinks Social Security is like a diseased wisdom tooth:

DAVID BROOKS: I think that's the way to read the polls. And the polls are against what you said, but that doesn't mean people aren't open to reason.

And I had a wisdom tooth taken out today. And you had asked me, do I support or oppose getting a wisdom tooth taken out?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, I oppose it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Philosophically.

DAVID BROOKS: Philosophically.


DAVID BROOKS: But I did it, because I had to do it.

And so you could say, do you support Social Security being -- retirement raised? No, I oppose it. But, if you explain to people -- and people basically understand this -- we have got to do it, that doesn't mean they won't do what they oppose, but it does take this kind of leadership.

And it also takes, not only the president. It takes business. It takes people in society supporting that. And so far, that business support from business leaders, civic leaders, it isn't there. And the president can't leap out without those people.
We live in a very strange moment. The major powers in the G-20 have decided that Herbert Hoover had the right idea for the early years of a depression: slash government spending and let the economy crash. (See Paul Krugman, New York Times 11/18/2010.) People like Sleepy Mark who go on TV and pretend to be pro-labor liberals advocate Alf Landon's position on Social Security.

Bobo gives his particular specialty as a TV commentator a real workout on this episode: to defend Radical Republican positions - Let Grandma eat catfood! Jesus loves nuclear proliferation! - in a creepily calm and reassuring tone. Here's Bobo saying what that thar noocleur treaty don't amount to diddly:

MARK SHIELDS: ... It has -- quite frankly, it passed the committee 14-4. You know, it is in the interests of the United States. And they are just -- I can only conclude this is about embarrassing the president. I really can.

DAVID BROOKS: I sort of agree with that. I don't see the big deal. I don't see the big deal about the treaty.

If you look at the reduction in warheads, it is a drop from like 1,750 to 1,550. It is not a huge thing. The substance of it is not huge. But the atmospherics around us help us deal with Russia. It helps us deal with our allies. So, it is not that important a thing.

Why make a big opposition to a thing that, frankly, isn't that important, unless are you motivated in part by some sort of Cold War memories, or you just want to oppose the president? So, I think it's unfortunate.
Our pundit corps at its finest.

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