Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM reader NB reports in from the field on <$NoAd$>the semantic chaos that has the Grey Lady spinning in circles ...

"Bush Finds a Backer in Moynihan, Who's Not Talking"

"Senators Urge Bush to Sell Overhaul of Social Security"


It appears a semantics battle is being waged at The NYTimes...the above links from today's paper indicate inner (dare we say personal) turmoil. Richard Stevenson comes out of the gate strong, using "private investment accounts" in the first sentence. He loses his footing, however in the third graph and writes of "ways of establishing personal accounts..." and repeats this in paragraph five. Stevenson comes roaring back near the end, reverting to "private investment accounts" (albeit in reference to Moynihan's plan which may have used that term specifically).

In the second article "private" is used four times and "personal" once.

Heated editorial arguments involved here, a transitional phase between "private" and "personal"? Or just a case of writers not needing a thesaurus now that Bush's PR hacks have given them an alternative...

cheers, NB Atlanta

[ed.note: We've just awarded NB a Special Edition Privatize This! TPM T-Shirt for conspicuous gallantry in the battle to save Social Security, service on the Orwell front.]

[Late Update: With his permission, we are happy to announce that NB is none other than Neal Broffman of Atlanta.]

Another article on the president's pitch to black leaders at the White House on Tuesday: You die so young, you're not getting a good deal from Social Security.

Since the president now seems inclined to bang on this patently dishonest argument, it's probably time for someone to pipe up and explain that the study the president is relying on has already been discredited by studies by the Social Security Administration and what was then still called the Government Accounting Office for errors so elementary that they were almost certainly intentional.

Some, though not all of those errors, are explained in this recent editorial from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Another local Democratic party resolution against President Bush's phase-out plan. This one from Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Congressional District 2 Central Committee and Senate District 39 Central Committee.

It turns out that Armstrong Williams wasn't the only pundit on the Bush administration payroll. Maggie Gallagher got $21,500 from HHS to flack Bush administration marriage and family policy. That's the story Howie Kurtz lands in tomorrow's Post.

On top of that, says Kurtz: "Gallagher received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled 'Can Government Strengthen Marriage?', for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative."

When you read a bit further down into the piece you find this fact: The fellow who hired Gallagher at HHS is Wade Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families. And what'd he do before he started work for the Bush administration? Right, he founded the National Fatherhood Iniative.

It seems fair to say that the Gallagher arrangement wasn't as egregious as the Williams one. It's not clear -- at least from Kurtz's piece -- that she was paid to flack the policy, but rather to ghostwrite a few marriage policy articles, write a few brochures and do ... well, it's actually not totally clear what she was paid to do.

Which suggests a point. Were they really worried that Gallagher would come out for free love without the cash incentive? Neither she nor Williams is really known for their independent streak. In Gallagher's case -- and to some degree in Williams' too -- this seems less like a matter of payola than a Bush administration make-work program for third-tier GOP pundits.

The ludicrous claim Sen. Wayne Allard (R) of Colorado made earlier this month -- that Social Security is $28 trillion in debt -- finally catches up with him in the Denver Post.

In case you've got your Wayne Allard scorecard out, that was the same town meeting when he said the US government would simply default on those Treasury notes in the Trust Fund.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall. From AP ...

Bush tried to get ministers and other leaders of the black community behind his agenda in an earlier private meeting that lasted more than an hour. Attendees said Bush told them his plan to add private accounts to Social Security would benefit blacks since they tend to die younger than whites and end up paying in more than they take out. Private accounts would be owned by workers and could be inherited by loved ones after death.

GWB: With you guys dying so young, how can you not support me?

The Times and NBC may have adopted "personal accounts" over "private accounts" at the bidding of the Republican National Committee. But the AP's Nedra Pickler is standing firm with "private accounts."

Reuters, meanwhile, tries to be half-pregnant with "personal stock and bond accounts", while Bloomberg ups the ante on the White House with "private stock accounts".

If you're a regular reader of TPM this article from the Post by Mike Allen will probably bring a smile to your face. It reports on a meeting the president held today at the White House with congressional Republicans. The agenda? Trying to stop them from <$NoAd$> bailing out on his Social Security phase-out plan.

The first graf tells the tale: "President Bush pleaded for patience yesterday from Republican lawmakers who will shape Social Security legislation, summoning them to the White House at a time when they are expressing increasing frustration about his handling of his top priority for the year."

This graf, though, may be the most revealing ...

Senators and administration officials said that during the meeting, Bush emphasized the need to act quickly after he presents his proposals, and both sides said most senators agreed that something needs to be done.

So the president has been in no rush to explain what's actually contained in his proposal, even though he announced his intention to submit his own bill within a couple days of his reelection. And yet it's very important that Congress adopt it quickly after he submits it. I guess that says something about how confident he is in selling it to the public.

Consider that whether you call it Private Accounts or Phase-Out or Personal Accounts or Privativation or even Don't Worry/Be Happy Accounts, what the president is proposing would amount to one of the most consequential pieces of legislation to pass in any of our lifetimes, no matter how old you are. And yet the crisis is apparently so pressing that Congress must pass it immediately.

Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia wasn't convinced. We rejoin Mike's article already in progress ...

Several Republicans expressed skepticism about the White House's hopes for swift passage. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) said Social Security legislation will take some time, "and it should -- it really should." He said he might ask the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to prepare "a definitive analysis on the history of the program, the goals of the program."

"We don't have at this point what I call an unbiased, analytical piece that the average Joe can pick up and say 'What is all this that the politicians are arguing about?' " he said.

Imagine Warner's temerity in gumming up the works by asking the GAO to do a study. What does he want to do to the phase-out plan, Daschle it?

(ed.note: The rapid erosion of support for the president's Social Security phase-out plan has forced us to rewrite the by-laws for the GOP Conscience Caucus. We'll be bringing you more on this late breaking development shortly. For now, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R) of California has been asked to return his Caucus membership card.)

Late Update: Same basic story from the Times: "After a meeting with President Bush on Tuesday, Republican senators said they had cautioned him that the drive to change the Social Security system was faltering because the public was not convinced that a fundamental overhaul was necessary."

Okay, I don't make a habit of suggesting people listen to clips of shows I've been on. But I think this 90 second exchange I had today with Frank Luntz on the Al Franken Show is worth sparing a moment for. As noted earlier, here Luntz explains why reporters who use the term "private accounts" are showing objective evidence of bias against the president even though this was the president's own favored phrase until a few weeks ago.

There's one part that isn't perfectly audible. That's when I for the second time ask how there can be anything wrong with reporters using this phrase when the president himself has repeatedly used it. Luntz responds "used it", placing a hard emphasis on the final "d", thus signifying that the president has stopped using the term and that therefore reporters should too.

Apparently, the New York Times finds this argument compelling. But I have to confess the logic escapes me.

Give it a listen.

You can also find the commentary about it at the Al Franken Show website.