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Now I know how

Now I know how Mary Mapes felt. Moments (apparently) after the Rather post appeared, here's feedback that includes this reference, to the Hair Part Theory (promulgated, at least in part, to sell a mirror that doesn't mirror--that is, that doesn't reverse left-to-right). If this site is to be believed, Jimmy Carter also toyed with the idea of a changed part. I thought I was being trivial, and still I lumbered into the land of a Theory.

Josh Marshall about to

Josh Marshall, about to be wed, is making the biggest mistake of his life: entrusting TPM to me for the next couple of days. I’ll try to keep the damage to a respectable minimum, since I’m also a regular reader, but no guarantees about the furniture.

As a humor-type person, I reserve the right to bring the conversation right down to the trivial and superficial, where American media really dwell. And that’s where we’ll start. Having said my own farewell to Dan Rather with personally gathered highlights of his career here, here, here, here, and here, I hope at least some listeners gathered that the noise about his “bias” is so damned irrelevant to understanding what was wrong, not just at the end but straight on through. About half of it was Dan himself, as the clips may show (another one, really amazing, airs this Sunday), but the other half is the nature of the network anchor job itself: sitting in New York reading prompter and, as Ken Auletta showed in his recent profile, assuming the Managing Editor mantle for important visitors, then occasionally parachuting into a news hotspot for, at most, 24 hours of finding out the answer to the only question they have time to ask: what’s the mood here?

All that being said, I’m amazed that a salient fact about Dan’s last few years escaped notice during last week’s barrage of Rathermania and Ratherphobia. Namely, what other distinguished personage of such lengthy service in the public eye suddenly decides, in the last few years of his career, to change the side of his head on which he parts his hair? That, my friends, is plain weird. Sure, he changed the haircut, opting for the youthful short-and-semi-spiky look, and, after a lot of to-and-froing with the dye bottle, allowed himself to go gray, then white. But all that could have been consisten with the right-side part we’d come to know and....know. Somehow, Dan decided--and you’ll hear from the clips that these are decisions to which he gives long and thoughtful consideration--that all that was not enough, that the twilight of a long life on camera had to be marked with a migratory part. And nobody asked why. Until now.

My time is up.

My time is up. To summarize my main points:

Social Security privatization = bad.

Other than that, I hope (if you don't already) you'll consider reading and subscribing to the New Republic.

UPDATE: I've gotten several emails from readers who claim they won't read me, or won't read TNR, because of this or that disagreeable position we've taken. To be perfectly frank, if you think like this I pity you. Why on Earth should anybody confine their reading to those writers with whom they agree on everything? The best way to learn is to read arguments you disagree with. I voraciously consume analysis with which I disagree, both on the right and on the left.

TNR, more than any other magazine, publishes a range of dissenting views. Yes, we editorially criticized Howard Dean and supported the Iraq war. But we've also run plenty of pro-Dean and anti-war articles, including prominent cover stories. It's fine if TNR isn't your cup of tea. But if you spurn it or any other voice solely on ideological grounds, you're dooming yourself to small-mindedness.

Sorry to get preachy. I just find this mentality baffling.

Im not sure what

I’m not sure what exactly it will take for the conventional wisdom to the Washington press corps and the elite punditocracy to stop saying that President Bush has a plan to save Social Security from insolvency and the Democrats don’t. You’d think the absence of any such plan on Bush’s part would be enough, but clearly it’s not.

How about the fact that Bush himself now admits it? According to Dan Froomkin’s White House Briefing at the Washington Post online, Bush told a roundtable of reporters yesterday that he has no plan:

But he expressed astonishment that people constantly refer to "Bush's plan": "I haven't laid out a plan," he said. "I've laid out some ideas that I think ought to be considered for a plan, and that's what's important for people to know."

And in his press conference today, Bush repeated, “I have not laid out a plan yet -- intentionally. I have laid out principles.” That really ought to settle the question.

Meanwhile, Bush also admitted that private accounts do not make Social Security solvent. “Personal accounts do not solve the issue,” he said.

Nonetheless, Bush insists on private accounts. From the roundtable discussion:

Q: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.] said if he could ask you one question, it would be, 'Why doesn't he take [Social Security account] privatization off the table, and let's talk about solvency for Social Security? What would you say to him?

A: I would say, 'I'm willing to talk about solvency; please come to the table,' and I think it's very important for people to consider personal accounts. It's a concept that I think is very important to be discussed. . . .

Q: There was some confusion when you referred to personal investment accounts as an 'add-on' in a recent Social Security [promotional] appearance [in Westfield, N.J.]. Would you be open to add-on personal accounts, as opposed to a personal accounts carved out of payroll taxes?

A: No, I think the 'carve-out' is the way to go. What I was referring to in my speech, I was explaining to people that the capital in the personal account would yield a certain amount of interest, and that interest -- the monies would be in addition to a Social Security check you were receiving.

Q: So you would rule out add-on accounts?

A: In my judgment, the best way to go forward is to allow a personal account to be created out of the payroll taxes being paid into the system."

So let’s be clear where things stand. This is fundamentally an ideological fight. Democrats want to keep Social Security as a form of social insurance, and Bush wants to transform it into something else. Democrats are not willing to make a deal on solvency if it means giving up social insurance. And Bush is not willing to make a deal on solvency unless they do.

Given all this, how on earth can so many people continue to claim that Bush wants to save Social Security while the Democrats have their heads in the sand? How can this almost universally-accepted aphorism be said to have any basis in reality?

The political press and

The political press, and websites like this one, have been obsessing for weeks over the politics of privatizing Social Security. I think we may all have missed the single key development: Lindsey Graham has switched sides.

Graham was always the center of the action. A champion of privatization, he's been holding closed-door meetings with moderate Democrats in the hopes of forging a compromise. The main worry of the pro-Social Security crowd all along has been that Graham would co-opt the Democrats into some form of privatization.

That's why what Graham told the Washington Post last week is so crucial. In the interview, he called private accounts a "sideshow." There was also this:

"Let's have a conversation along these lines: Let's make a commitment to permanently find solvency, and see where we go," he said. "Set the accounts aside for a moment. Let's see if we can find solvency."

That position is known as "the Democratic position." Democrats are willing to discuss Social Security's solvency, but not privatization. In the same article, Treasury Secretary John Snow said, "the administration is saying that the solvency issue, if it's going to be dealt with in a way that's fair to younger people, has to make available to them this opportunity to build a nest egg through the personal accounts." Which is in keeping with the conservative line. For privatizers, solvency is the pretext for transforming Social Security from social insurance into a system where individuals take care of themselves. If they address solvency withot adding private accounts, they lose their pretext.

And yesterday, Graham voted with the Democrats on a sense of the Senate resolution rejecting large benefit cuts or increases in the national debt.

So how or why did Graham switch sides? My guess is this. Graham is an earnest guy, and he sat down with Democrats thinking he could win them over to his point of view. But as they hashed it out, and they brought up the inherent problems with establishing private accounts, he instead came around to their point of view. Instead of Graham coopting the Democrats, the Democrats coopted Graham.

Anyway, that's my theory.

From the Guardian Russias

From the Guardian: "Russia's secret services are shielding Bosnian Serbs wanted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague for atrocities committed during the Bosnian war, including the massacre at Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered."

Theres a gag in

There's a gag in one episode of Arrested Development (the greatest television show in the history of the world) in which a character sees a bag in his freezer labelled, "Dead Dove. Do Not Eat." Curious, he opens the bag, looks grossed out, pauses, and says, "I don't know what I expected."

I had a similar experience this morning. National Review Online posted a link to a Jonah Goldberg column entitled "Kill the cats!" Intrigued, I clicked on it, figuring it had to be a metaphor of some kind. It's not.

Yesterday Josh argued here

Yesterday, Josh argued here that "One of the Democrats' greatest problems -- far more insidious than many realize -- is their desire to gain the approval and approbation of establishment Washington and its A-list pundits."

Interestingly, a reporter friend of mine came across some evidence of this proposition that very night. As he told me:

I was talking yesterday with a very influential Democratic congressman who firmly defended the current Democratic position of not having a specific Social Security 'plan' on the table. Yet at the same time he was a little defensive about it. Why? "Because I keep hearing from you guys" -- i.e., Washington reporters -- "that we're going to be in trouble for not having a plan," he said. "And it makes me nervous."

The stench of death

The stench of death is everywhere around Social Security privatization. Today the Washington Post publishes an analysis of its poll showing support for Bush on Social Security is falling yet again. Meanwhile, in the New York Times, David Brooks writes a “A Requiem for Reform,” in which he blames GOP miscalculation, Democratic partisanship, and the selfishness of the voters for killing privatization. (A departure from his usual sunny populism, wouldn’t you say?)

Actually, if reform dies, it wasn’t selfishness that killed privatization. It was precisely the opposite.

The irony of Brooks’ complaint, which we’re sure to see repeated elsewhere, is that selfishness has always been at the core of Bush’s economic agenda. He passed tax cuts by dismissing Democratic worries that it would burden future generations with debt. Remember him waving dollar bills and promising, “it’s your money”? He organized lobbies representing the affluent to push for the tax cuts that would benefit them disproportionately. Karl Rove’s re-election strategy was built on appealing to the narrow self-interest of a series of groups. Farmers got lavish crop payments. The steel, shrimp, textile and lumber industry got tariffs. HMOs and pharmaceuticals got lavish subsidies. Etc.

Unsurprisingly, Bush approached Social Security privatization in the same spirit. The strategy was to divide up the electorate and appeal to each segment in very self-interested terms. They would neutralize seniors with the assurance that their benefits wouldn’t be touched. The young would be lured in with promises of amassing great fortunes in private accounts. Blacks would be peeled off from the Democratic coalition with bogus claims that Social Security harms them disproportionately. And Wall Street and other businesses, who smelled large profits down the road, would pony up tens of millions of dollars to fund the whole campaign.

But it hasn’t worked. And the main reason is that the public is not quite as selfish as the conservatives thought.

The privatizers’ weakest assumption turned out to be their belief that the elderly would support privatization if they knew they wouldn’t be affected. For weeks, as polls have shown rising hostility to privatization, GOP pollsters and strategists have conceded that they need to do more to reassure seniors on this point. Bush has obligingly harped on it at every stop.

Yet senior citizens overwhelmingly oppose Bush’s approach. And it’s not because they think their benefits will be cut – polls show they overwhelmingly they buy his reassurances. As today’s Post reports:

By and large, the elderly do understand the president has promised not to touch their Social Security checks, according to polling.

But that is not relevant to their political opposition, Smorodin said, noting that older people also worry that pension benefit cuts will hurt their children and grandchildren.

At 69, Gene Wallace knows the White House's proposal would have no impact on his Social Security check, but if Bush believes that will silence the Republican mayor of Coldwater, Mich., Wallace grumbled, "he's all wet."

"I'm a parent as well as a grandparent. Somewhere along the line, they are going to be eligible for retirement assistance," he said, with all the energy he could muster three weeks after open-heart surgery. "It's everybody's concern what happens to this country."

I find this pretty heartwarming. Who wouldn’t? I’ll tell you who: an economic libertarian who sees concepts like social insurance or collective interest as fundamentally alien. Which is to say, the sentiment that has driven privatization from the very beginning. As usual, this sentiment was voiced in its most naked way by GOP strategist, business lobbyist and Rove confidante Grover Norquist. Last year, speaking to a Mexican newspaper, Norquist chortled over the demise of the World War II generation:

This is an age cohort that voted for a draft before the war started, and allowed the draft to continue for 25 years after the war was over. Their idea of the legitimate role of the state is radically different than anything previous generations knew, or subsequent generations."

Before that generation, whenever you put a draft in, there were draft riots. After that generation, there were draft riots. This generation? No problem. Why not? Of course the government moves people around like pawns on a chessboard. One side spits off labor law, one side spits off Social Security. We will all work until we're 65 and have the same pension. You know, some Bismark, German thing, okay? Very un-American.

Brooks writes today about how privatization opponents used “familiar scare tactics designed to frighten the elderly,” using one of the most hackneyed clichés favored by critics of Social Security. Here’s what I’d like to see them explain: What’s wrong with being frightened about a future in which your children and grandchildren live in an every-man-for-himself society?

Marshall Wittmann the Democratic

Marshall Wittmann, the Democratic Leadership Council thinker who writes the Bull Moose blog, is a terrific guy. But in his zeal to defend Joe Lieberman he’s backed himself into a corner.

There’s a larger debate about Lieberman and his role in the party, but I’ll set that aside for now. Marshall defended the Senator’s honor by citing his vote against the bankruptcy bill, which Marshall praised a as “a strong stand against this flawed legislation.” Indeed Marshall throws this strong stance in the face of all the liberals who see Lieberman as a shill for business.

Fair enough. But since then several other bloggers have pointed out that the best chance to stop the bankruptcy bill was not on the final vote. The decisive vote was an earlier cloture vote. And Lieberman voted yes on that. Probably, after passage was inevitable, he switched from yes to no in order to spare himself more criticism from the left.

So Marshall responded by launching a counterattack on “dogmatic idealogues” and “hyperspace lefties” who gang up on Lieberman. That's fine as far as it goes. I actually agree with Marshall and the DLC on the suicidal purity of the Democratic party’s left wing, embodied by the Howard Dean movement and its fanatical internet contingent, even if I disagree with his support for Lieberman in particular. (I think Lieberman's zeal to be seen as bipartisan, apologetics for torture, history of supporting capital gains tax cuts and fighting sensible regulations on Wall Street allow party liberals to tarnish the whole moderate wing as sell-outs.)

Be that as it may, there’s a specific issue here. Marshall claimed Lieberman opposed the bankruptcy bill, but it turned out he really didn’t. Shouldn’t he, you know, admit that? He could still argue why he supports Lieberman despite this one bad vote. But clearly he was caught praising Lieberman for a particular stance and then, when it was pointed out that Lieberman actually did the opposite, lashed out at his critics without acknowledging the contradiction.

Marshall is in many ways a Scoop Jackson Democrat. Jackson was a foreign policy hawk and a domestic New Deal liberal. Lieberman isn't quite that. He's a hawk and a pro-business moderate. It's fine for Marshall to decide he cares most about foreign policy and support Lieberman despite some domestic disagreements. Pretending Lieberman is something other than what he actually is simply undermines the case.