Wouldn't it be something if the battle for Social Security was won on the Hill and on the hustings but lost in the newsrooms?
It could be happen. Actually, it might be happening right now.
I've got a list here of Republicans who went into the Conscience Caucus today. And with any luck I'll be able to post on most of them tonight. For a sampling, take a look at this AP article. But right now the White House and its Hill allies can see they're losing this debate because the essential fraudulence of their arguments are being exposed.
President Bush's top aides are getting cornered into admitting that private accounts won't do anything to improve the solvency of Social Security. Actually, it pushes it toward insolvency. But candor comes in small packages from these folks. So I guess be grateful. The claim that there was any 'crisis' tanked so quickly even the White House isn't making that argument anymore. And as the Post notes, most of the money you make in your private account goes back to the government. The White House is now furiously denying it. But we've got the transcript of the "senior administration official" saying just that to reporters.
Across the board, the debate is going badly because the whole plan is being revealed for what it is: not an effort to shore up or preserve Social Security but an attempt to phase the program out. You can even see various news outlets over the last 72 hours swaying back to 'private accounts' and 'privatization' in their discussions of President Bush's plan.
And for all these reasons the RNC and the White House are launching a furious assault against the major national news outlets trying to muscle them into shifting the tone and the assumptions of their coverage. The cable networks (at least the ones not already taking orders directly), the broadcast network news divisions, the major national dailies.
Part of it is the language, the speech code, but equally important is the basic issue of when the program will face actual difficulties. If the Bush plan calls for 40% benefit cuts those are cuts. But if the current benefit levels will in fact never be paid, then cuts aren't really cuts, right?
Look through the various transcripts of background briefings posted here and elsewhere to see examples of this.
Let's try an example. Let's say a hypothetical Bush plan cuts benefits by 40%. But what if the White House says that as things are going now recipients in a few decades will only get 50% of their benefits. Well then the Bush plan isn't really a 40% cut; it's more like a 10 percentage point increase in benefits. Or maybe there is no Trust Fund. The whole basis of the 1983 reform just doesn't exist. And the $1.8 trillion just doesn't need to be paid back.
You can see where this sort of stuff goes. And it's what's going on right now.
The issue isn't bias. It's just that the media is far more playable than it should be. And the Republicans just play them harder, more systematically, better.
Who's pushing back on the pro-Social Security side? Who's knocking down the new round of flimflam? Might be good if someone did.