Friday, November 16, 2007

Social Security facts vs. the unbearable lightness of primary campaign rhetoric

Let's face it. Reality really takes a beating during the unbearable lightness of political discussion during our longer-than-ever primary campaign season, when scoring points replaces reasoned discourse, sound bites replace thought, and tactical considerations seem to govern every word. Endless debates long before America is even ready to focus on the presidential campaign turns the candidates into parodies of themselves. We get absurdities like Barack Obama conjuring another Social Security "crisis" out of thin air and accusing Hillary Clinton of not doing enough about it. Yeah, right.

In a useful column today, Paul Krugman takes on this canard and reminds us of a few facts.
  • Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security — declaring that the program as we know it can’t survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers — is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

  • But the “everyone” who knows that Social Security is doomed doesn’t include anyone who actually understands the numbers. In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.

  • How has conventional wisdom gotten this so wrong? Well, in large part it’s the result of decades of scare-mongering about Social Security’s future from conservative ideologues, whose ultimate goal is to undermine the program.

  • The anti-tax activist Stephen Moore gave the game away when he described Social Security as “the soft underbelly of the welfare state,” and hailed the Bush plan as a way to put a “spear” through that soft underbelly.

  • In October, The Washington Post published an editorial castigating Hillary Clinton for, um, not being panicky about Social Security — and as we’ve seen, nonsense like the claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme seems to be back in vogue.

  • And on Social Security, as on many other issues, what Washington means by bipartisanship is mainly that everyone should come together to give conservatives what they want.
  • Good points to keep in mind. As the campaigns continue heating up heading into the first caucuses and primaries, things are likely to get worse before they get better. We're going to have to keep our wits about us.

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