I've gotten no end of flak for ignoring weightier issues in favor of the Gary Condit craziness in recent weeks.
(This, of course, is to be distinguished from flak from flacks -- like Rep. Gary Condit's flack who falsely denied the accuracy of the quote I attributed to her in my recent article in Salon.com ... Okay, okay, I'll stop.)
As a general matter I've always thought it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time -- following a human interest story, a mystery, doesn't mean you can't also keep up on important political issues as well.
But here's one instance where something of very real importance seems to have been almost entirely lost in the rush of Condit coverage. As Amy Goldstein reported on Friday in the Washington Post, President Bush's Social Security Privatization Commission is readying to release its preliminary report. This tract does much more than repeat the standard doomsaying one normally expects from those who support privatizing Social Security. It also repeats one of the most shameful and dishonest slurs against the current system: that it is especially unfair to blacks, minorities, and women.
It is difficult to convey just how ugly and craven a deception this is, since it is precisely these groups who arguably benefit most from the current system. We'll be talking about this and other matters pertaining to the President's reform commission in the coming days and weeks. But there's such a quantity of bad policy, bad facts, and bad faith piled together here that, for the moment, let's focus on just two points.
First is the basic contention -- endlessly pushed by the administration -- that the government bonds in which the Social Security surplus is invested are no more than mere paper. Just empty promissory notes, not actual assets, they say. This is not only a foolish assumption. For those who make it, it's also a very dishonest one.
Wealthy Americans have long invested a good part of their assets in government paper precisely because it is the safest investment to be had. That after all is why bond investors are willing to accept relatively low rates of return compared to equities -- precisely because these investments are so safe.
There are of course further complexities to this question -- some of which I discussed here. But as a general matter this is the truth of it.
The second point is the odious behavior of former Senator, and current Commission Co-Chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan has lent considerable stature to Bush's endeavor, since the former Senator is widely viewed as an expert on Social Security. All this makes it even more critical to point out the fact that for anyone who follows this subject closely, Moynihan has lost almost all the credibility he once had on the subject. Over the last half dozen years Moynihan has used the cloak of his reputation to cover over a series of comical flip flops and ludicrous assertions about Social Security. Some of these fooleries are discussed in this article by Jon Chait and this article by your truly. Let's get the ball rolling with this one:
Moynihan was part of the 1983 Social Security commission that took the program off a purely pay-as-you-go basis and set up a trust fund that could later be drawn upon as baby boomers reached retirement age. Now he says the whole concept is foolish and unworkable and, even more inexplicably, that he hadn't even realized this was being done.
Supporters of Social Security should not hesitate to expose Moynihan's credibility and credentials on this issue for what they are: non-existent.
Much more to come on this subject.