The problem with Alan Simpson As A Hero

The Pope is Gonna Buy the Electric Company
The Pope is Gonna Buy the Electric Company

Cat Food Commissioner Alan Simpson was asked:

what do you say to those folks who don’t have the comfort of a pension? That don’t have a good job that they can get employed at all the way through the age of 70, say? How do you deal with that?”

His answer:

“I always say to people,” Alan Simpson told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “before you, you know begin to drool at the mouth, and  go crazy and scratch our eyeballs out, read the damn report. It was 67 pages, we put it in December 1, 2010 and people said, “What are you doing to the vulnerable?” And I said, read it. We don’t do anything to people on SSI, we don’t do anything with food stamp, we don’t do anything with people on — on unemployment. Get — get your — use your bean, instead of listening to crap all day long from the right, and the left.”

(click here to continue reading The problem with Alan Simpson.)

Somehow that doesn’t seem to answer the question.

The Pope Says Achieve
The Pope Says Achieve

Ezra Klein writes, in response:

Simpson’s answer, meanwhile, was no answer at all. It was just schtick. It does nothing to, say, rebut the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which took a close look at the changes Simpson-Bowles made to Social Security and concluded that the proposal “would generate nearly two-thirds of its Social Security savings over 75 years — and four-fifths of its savings in the 75th year — from benefit cuts,” and that “while these benefit cuts would be largest for workers with above-average earnings, they would affect the vast majority of retired and disabled workers.”

Fifteen years after he retired from the U.S. Senate, Simpson has become a key figure in American politics by picking the right issue, the right enemies, and the right language to describe them. He is like America’s cranky grandpa. A bit unfiltered, sure, but loved for saying what everyone else was already thinking. And it works because most of the people Simpson talks to — particularly the ones in the media — really do think like Alan Simpson.

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit. On this one issue, reporters are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions. At Tuesday’s Playbook breakfast, for instance, Mike Allen, as a straightforward and fair a reporter as you’ll find, asked Simpson and Bowles whether they believed Obama would do “the right thing” on entitlements — with “the right thing” clearly meaning “cut entitlements.”

(click here to continue reading The problem with Alan Simpson.)

Save Ten Percent with Pippin
Save Ten Percent with Pippin

and Paul Krugman adds:

As I’ve written on previous occasions, the Bernie Madoff phenomenon helped me understand a lot about the persistence of bad economics. Madoff flourished through “affinity fraud”; his investors thought he was their kind of guy, so they didn’t look hard at how he was allegedly making money. And I realized that a similar phenomenon explains the enduring popularity of goldbugs and fiscal doomsayers — including, say, the Wall Street Journal editorial page — despite years of being wrong about everything; their devotees, who consist in large part of cranky old white men, see kindred spirits and can’t see past that to the consistently terrible analysis.

Simpson is, demonstrably, grossly ignorant on precisely the subjects on which he is treated as a guru, not understanding the finances of Social Security, the truth about life expectancy, and much more. He is also a reliably terrible forecaster, having predicted an imminent fiscal crisis — within two years — um, two years ago. Yet he remains not only respectable among the Beltway crowd; as Ezra says, he’s lionized in a way that looks from the outside like a clear violation of journalistic norms…

So what is it that makes Simpson the figure he is? Clearly, it’s an affinity thing: never mind his obvious lack of knowledge, his ludicrous track record, reporters trust and idolize Simpson because he’s their kind of guy.

And think about what it says about them that their kind of guy is this cantankerous, potty-mouthed individual, who evidently feels not a bit of empathy for those less fortunate.

(click here to continue reading Alan Simpson and Bernie Madoff –

Let the Games Begin
Let the Games Begin

and for good measure, William Greider wrote these words in 2010, which are still relevant…

Retired Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, who inherited a soft-cushion career in politics from his father, is a garrulous old crank who at 79 seems desperate for attention. Simpson likes to pop off provocatively. He cannot resist mocking lesser mortals like Social Security recipients with meanspirited ridicule. Simpson is an always quotable darling of Washington reporters, who mistake his nastiness for straight talk, who are too lazy to check out his ugly distortions.

Senator Trash Mouth keeps messing up the plan, however, by provoking outrage with his tasteless zingers. Most recently, Simpson compared Social Security—the federal government’s most beloved program—to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” 


On the same page the Times reported Simpson’s latest gaffe, political reporter Matt Bai contributed a far more outrageous falsehood of his own. In condescending style, he dismissed opponents to Social Security cuts (dimwits like me) as stuck-in-the-past liberals, trying to defend big government against harsh reality. Bai celebrated the courage of Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, a Democrat who evidently embraces the same view. Bai did not mention the people and public opinion overwhelmingly opposed to benefit cuts (check the polls if you doubt this). Someone should ask Congressman Blumenauer’s constituents how they feel about his brave stance.

Bai’s great falsification was to insinuate that the Social Security’s trust fund is bogus—that the massive surpluses collected from working people to pay for their future retirements are meaningless. Social Security, he acknowledged, has amassed a pile of Treasury bonds—IOUs from the government—but he says as a practical matter that money can’t be paid back because taxes would have to be raised or more funds borrowed elsewhere. “This is sort of like saying that you’re rich because your friend has promised to give you 10 million bucks just as soon as he wins the lottery,” Bai explains.

His comparison is a clever but consequential lie, consistent with the elite propaganda. Bai makes it sound like the government is going to give this money to retirees. In fact, it’s the other way around. Social Security collected this money from workers as their involuntary savings, better known as FICA deductions. Then the federal government borrowed the money from us and spent it on other things. Congress raised the FICA deductions twenty-five years ago on all working people to pay for the baby boom generation’s copming retirements. The Social Security trust fund has since built up massive surpluses–$2.5 trillion now and growing to $4.2 trillion in 2023—and set it aside for the future. But starting with Ronald Reagan, the federal government ran massive deficits on its own budgets and borrowed the savings from Social Security to pay for wars and military buildups, regressive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, among other things.

This vast wealth belongs to the working people who paid it—not to the federal government or Congress. Naturally, many politicians would like to get out of paying it back, but that constitutes a massive bait-and-switch swindle of working people. Bai and many other reporters of the mainstream media have been assured by their sources it is impossible to pay back that money, but that is a political choice, not a fiscal requirement. It would make working people pay for Republican gravy that went to someone else.

(click here to continue reading Alan Simpson, Senator Guttermouth, Spews Again | The Nation.)

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