Thursday, January 06, 2005

Now Tell Me Something I Don't Know

Josh Marshall has a post about the breaking story of the leaked memo from Peter Wehner, the deputy to White House political director Karl Rove. The memo outlines the President's Social Security strategy detailing, among other things, the need to create the perception that the Social Security system is in crisis. Marshall quotes this passage from the memo:

Let me tell you first what our plans are in terms of sequencing and political strategy. We will focus on Social Security immediately in this new year. Our strategy will probably include speeches early this month to establish an important premise: the current system is heading for an iceberg. The notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised is fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken. We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform.
A bit suspicious looking, but still relatively benign, and easily explained away. But then, the following phrases are revealed:

For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win -- and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country...[this is] one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times. [emphasis added]
Marshall is right to conclude:

So now you can see from memos emerging from the White House itself that this isn't about 'saving' Social Security. If it were, what would that sentence mean -- ("For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win")? The first time in six decades they can save it?
Precisely. Social Security hasn't needed saving for six decades - although you couldn't tell from the frequent GOP scare tactics. On the contrary, it has been delivering a decent wage and a dignified existence, for most of the 20th century, to retired American's who have contributed, in their working lives and beyond, to the greatness and wealth of this country. Further, it is solvent, under even the most pessimistic prognostications, for at least the next fifty years. So let me get this straight, the GOP has been waging a battle dating back to the 1940's in order to "save" a system whose crisis would entail the need to pay out only 80% of the benefits promised in the far away time of 2050 (assuming no modifications and improvements)? If you believe that, there's this bridge about ten blocks from my apartment....

Marshall continues:

Clearly, this isn't about 'saving' Social Security. It is a battle to end Social Security and replace with something that Wehner clearly understands is very different, indeed the antithesis of Social Security.
This entire debate is about ideology -- between people who believe in the benefits Social Security has brought America in the last three-quarters of a century and those who think it was a bad idea from the start. There is an honest debate to have on this point, a values debate. Only, the White House understands that the belief that Social Security was always a bad program isn't widely shared by Americans. So they have to wrap their effort in a package of lies, harnessing Americans' desire to save Social Security in their own effort to destroy it.
We must understand that conservatives have, as a matter of principle, opposed the Social Security system since before it was enacted, and have many times in the past attempted to do away with it. This is not speculation, or some conspiracy theory, this is part of the conservative ethos and world view that they themselves have proudly and defiantly proclaimed in the movement's literature and mission statements. What they have learned though, often the hard way, is that it Social Security is the proverbial political "third rail," so they have had to modify their approach. Now they are using the current fiscal crisis, generated by their own profligate spending and massive tax cuts, as well as a healthy dose of duplicity concerning the solvency of Social Security in order to introduce a plan designed to sink the system and further grow the debt, and thus finally win a battle they have been waging for the past "six decades." That sounds an awful lot like the premise of a story I penned way back in August.

Here is the lead paragraph to that post:

It has been the stated and unstated goal of conservatives in America to undo the legacies of the liberal policies enacted under the rubric of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's visionary New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's bold Great Society. The elimination of these programs is a central tenet of the goal to shrink the size of the federal government, to "starve the beast" and usher in an era of truly small government. The two most prominent survivors of this siege, Social Security and Medicare, have been the nemeses of conservative lawmakers, almost since their inception, even displaying the resilience to withstand the power of Reagan's overwhelming legislative mandate. They represent the last vestige of the American voters' refusal to vote against their interest.
Any Democrat so craven as to go along with this nefarious charade deserves to be recalled or impeached - although in my imagination I could come up with far more draconian punishments. Note to the Party: get a spine already, this is your issue. If the GOP wants to kill Social Security, do not provide them the cover of bipartisanship. Make them own it. Let it be their legacy.

[Update: Josh Marshall has the full text of the Wehner memo available here. Peruse at your leisure.]

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