If we're not mistaken, tonight's State of the Union address (aka, the kick-off of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour) should knock the Fainthearted Faction and the Conscience Caucus into utter turmoil. And pretty much every member of Congress is going to be asked by some reporter somewhere what they think of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan.
And let's be clear, that's what this is. The idea of phasing out only part of Social Security is just a con. The plan here is to get rid of Social Security entirely and replace it with a government system of private investment accounts in which everyone can sink or swim as well as they can manage.
If you don't make enough during your working life to save much, you're out of luck. If your investments go bad or you die young, you and your kids are out of luck too. On the margins there may well be a new system of elder welfare for those who can prove they would die or be without any means of support absent a government hand-out. But gone entirely will be the current Social Security system in which every American who pays into the system over their lifetime has a guaranteed bedrock of retirement security which can't be taken away ever, not as a matter of a handout or disgrace or pity, but as a matter of right to a modicum of comfort and dignity in retirement after a lifetime of work.
If you doubt that the plan is to get rid of Social Security entirely you are simply naive. Look at the structure of all the phase-out proposals. They don't really envision a hybrid system for the longterm. They are all designed to siphon money out of the system, weaken it, trigger the crisis President Bush now falsely claims exists and create an accelerating pressure to complete the process of phase-out.
If you think about it, nothing else would really make sense. If partial phase-out is a good thing, why isn't total phase-out even better? This isn't about solvency; it's about the ideology of people who don't believe in or approve of the near-universal, defined-benefit program America has had for seven decades.
That's the plan and that's what's at stake.
We could have an honest debate about whether we'd be better off with Social Security or a system of government-regulated 401ks in its place. But the president knows that's a debate he can't win. So he's trying to scam the public into helping him destroy what the vast majority want to protect.
Social Security can be put on the course to complete phase-out in the 109th Congress, or the effort to phase-out Social Security can be put to rest for decades. If a newly-reelected president, with compliant majorities in both houses of congress, and all the weight of his office put behind the effort gets stopped in its tracks by a battered, but recovering party like the Democrats now are, no one will try it again for a very long time.
So, tonight ... As I said, everybody's going to get asked about phase-out tonight. And we want to hear what you hear. We can only follow so many news outlets. We have our special email address still set up (firstname.lastname@example.org). So if you see some member of the Conscience Caucus going all wobbly and sidling up to the president's phase-out proposal, let us know. If others give it the thumbs down, let us know that too. We'd like to hear about it even if it's just existing members of the Caucus reaffirming their membership.
Same goes for the Dems. If someone starts to go wobbly, we'd really appreciate your telling us.
So we can make use of it in our efforts to cover the legislative battlein its totality, please give us as much detailed information as possible about when it was, where it appeared, and so forth. If possible, send us a link.
And watch the press. The president already got knocked on his heels for his 'crisis' malarkey. Will that affect the degree of credibility the media imputes to him now on related issues?
The White House has already signalled that a big part of the speech will be rolling out his new Social Security speech code. So if you see Tim Russert running away from the phrase 'private accounts' like it was the bubonic plague, can you let us know? Thank you. We'll be in your debt.
And if the dingbat neologism 'personalization' even crosses Andrea Mitchell's lips, can you tell us that too?
The Republicans have every right to use their own rhetoric to describe their own policies. But it's ridiculous for them to think they can force the press to adopt a new lexicon every time the pollsters come back to Karl's office with a glum face. And it is shameful when members of the press comply. So keep an eye out and let us know.
We'll be giving away 'Privatize This' TPM T-shirts for the top ten catches of the evening (ed.note: just remember that they have to go to the special email address to be considered)...