Just Above Sunset
May 8, 2005 - Things fall apart, the center will not hold... and people are buying gay cars!

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Last weekend in Just Above Sunset you could find an item discussing that week’s primetime presidential news conference.  That was under the heading Worms Turning and suggested George Bush’s relatively free ride with the media seemed to be coming to an end – the days of softball questions, and suggesting he was extremely popular and politically devastating, and charming in a cute boyish way, were giving way to something else.  Something else?  That would be calling him on what he actually says.

And now that the press conference is a few days in the past there is even more of this “calling him out” than noted in the first few days.

The only thing that was fresh in the press conference (most of it was the usual platitudes about this and that) was the new Bush ideas on Social Security – a proposal for "progressive price indexing" that would lock-in and assure the current level of benefits for those who earn no more than twenty grand a year, and dramatically reduce benefits for those who were in the comfortable middle class – those who earn twenty-one to ninety grand. And of course those who earn above that, who don’t have to pay any payroll tax once they reach that level, don’t matter.

This is the "Pozen Plan" – see Robert C. Pozen, "A Social Security Plan for All," paper prepared for "Saving Social Security", The Brookings Institution, 4 Jan 2005.  (Summary and analysis here.)

The reaction to all this?  The White House was reported to be very angry that the new “plan” was reported as cutting benefits.  No, they said, it was just a way to carefully manage benefits due to those better off, and to help the really needy.

Buy that?  No?

Don’t worry.  No one does.

And last week opened with an assault Monday by Paul Krugman in the New York Times - A Gut Punch to the Middle.  Catchy title, isn’t it?

A little of that?


Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.

... The average worker - average pay now is $37,000 - retiring in 2075 would face a cut equal to 10 percent of pre-retirement income. Workers earning 60 percent more than average, the equivalent of $58,000 today, would see benefit cuts equal to almost 13 percent of their income before retirement.

But above that level, the cuts would become less and less significant. Workers earning three times the average wage would face cuts equal to only 9 percent of their income before retirement. Someone earning the equivalent of $1 million today would see benefit cuts equal to only 1 percent of pre-retirement income.

In short, this would be a gut punch to the middle class, but a fleabite for the truly wealthy.

Beyond that, it's a good bet that benefits for the poor would eventually be cut, too.

It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts.


And driving around Los Angeles Monday afternoon that last idea, or the new meme – this is no more than turning Social Security into a welfare program so it can wither away and we’ll have it no more – is what I heard on the radio.  And not just on NPR and CBS.

On the web?  Dave from New York says this on the lefty Daily Kos


This so-called "Pozen plan" is a real Bush two-fer: Sock it to the middle classes now, while setting up a long-range plan to truly hose the poor later. Given how badly Bushco stumbled in trying to destroy Social Security with private accounts, I wouldn't be surprised if means-testing has become the new avenue of attack because it polled better.

And oh, it's a wily plan, alright - if Democrats oppose it, we can rely on our whore media to paint us as benefactors of the wealthiest. (The GOP will get a good chortle out of that.) Not means-testing Social Security has been one of the main reasons it's endured so popularly for 70 years. Private accounts would eviscerate Social Security quickly; means-testing is a slower death, but I am sure a patient GOP would be content with that.

If we're lucky, Bush's extremely low credibility on Social Security in general will keep this latest plan from ever getting out of the starting gates. But if not, we better have some clever jiu jitsu of our own to deflect this latest scam.


Did he say scam?  Yes he did.

Over at Obsidian Wings someone named Edward thinks of his father and gets a little exited – as we see here:


The men in my family of my father's generation returned home after serving their country and got jobs in the local steel mills, as had their fathers and their grandfathers. In exchange for their brawn, sweat, and expertise, the steel mills promised these men certain benefits. In exchange for Social Security taxes withheld from their already modest paychecks, the government promised these men certain benefits as well.

... These were church-attending, flag-waving, football-loving, honest family men. They are rightfully proud of providing homes and educations for their children and instilling the sorts of values and manners that serve them well as adults. And if I have to move heaven and earth, now that they've retired, the Republican Party is NOT going to redefine them as welfare recipients.


So there!

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly carries the historical thing forward reminding us of Roosevelt’s concepts –


… when his aides presented him with their initial Social Security proposals 70 years ago, FDR balked: "No dole," he said, "mustn't have a dole" — because he knew instinctively that welfare programs are both fundamentally unpopular as well as corrosive to the human spirit. Conservatives understand this better than liberals, and know perfectly well that the best way to kill something is to convince the public that it's actually a welfare program.

But that's not what Social Security is. It's a modestly progressive social insurance program that's paid for by everyone and that benefits everyone. If it ever stops being that, if it ever stops being universal, it will eventually cease to exist. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.


Okay.  We are all on guard.

And Mark Kleiman, the UCLA social policy professor, adds a comment with a great title I knew Robin Hood. Robin Hood was a friend of mine. And you, Mr. Bush, are no Robin Hood.  (Well, it worked on Dan Quayle.)


In fact, Social Insecurity version 2.0, as announced by the President at his press conference, would reduce retirement incomes much more for the middle class than for the rich, simply because the rich don't rely much on Social Security in the first place. Middle-class retirees in 2075 (people earning the equivalent of $35,000-$100,000) would have their retirement income cut by 10-13%. For the people who got the most out of the tax cuts which blew the Social Security surplus, the hit would be much smaller, down to 1% at the million-dollar-a-year level.

Yes, it's true that the bottom of the income distribution (among those with enough time in the labor force to qualify for Social Security) would fare better than the middle class. But since when is hammering the middle class while doing nothing for the poor in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich "Robin Hood" behavior?


Yeah, one senses Bush’s folks wanted to position him as a sort of Robin Hood.  But it is obvious, and to thoroughly mix metaphors, that dog won’t hunt.

The jig is up?  The game is over?  Les Jeux Son Fait?

The man cannot catch a break?  Seems so.


And history doesn’t help  This was all over the web by the end of the week – a paragraph in a letter from Dwight David Eisenhower to his brother Edgar dated November 8, 1954


Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.


Ouch!  Only stupid guys from Texas would try such a thing.


Poor George!


And. as widely reported, over the last weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, his own wife delivered a monolog that was intended to lighten things up, but perhaps only made things worse –


"I am married to the President of the United States and here is our typical evening. Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I am watching Desperate Housewives. With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentleman, I am a desperate housewife. I mean if those women on that show think they're desperate, they ought to be with George. One night after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales....I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service code name is now Dollar Bill."

"George always says that he's delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He's usually in bed by now. I'm not kidding. I said to him the other day, George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."

"The amazing thing is that George and I were just meant to be. I was a librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library, yet somehow I met George."

"People often wonder what my mother-in-law is really like. People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly Aunt Bee type. She's actually more like Don Corleone."

"I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse."

"George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw. Which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."


That last one is a tad troubling.  (Transcript here.)

So he’s no Robin Hood.  Try Rodney Dangerfield.

But it gets worse.  See Conservative Christians Not Laughing at First Lady's Comedy Act - where it seems these folks are NOT pleased. [See the FOOTNOTE below on the authenticity of what follows... ]

According to one Russell D'Arby (with my emphases) –


The First Lady may have stolen the show with her surprise comedy routine at the 91st White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but not everyone appreciated her jokes and one-liners poking fun at President Bush. At least one organization of conservative Christians quickly lashed out at Mrs. Bush's performance, warning that her remarks at the President's expense were a public refutation of the Biblical command that wives should respect their husbands.
According to an official statement released over the weekend by the Coalition for Traditional Values, an organization that seeks a more flexible relationship between church and state, Mrs. Bush's jokes at her husband's expense amounted to a public emasculation of the President.

Pastor Roy DeLong, the statement's author and chair of the group, warns that the First Lady's performance comes at a time when the Mr. Bush's "manliness is already under attack."


Oh drat!  Sometime you can’t win for losing, particularly when you forget your Ephesians, as some of us do from time to time.


"As a believer, President Bush is no doubt familiar with the passage from Ephesians that says 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord,'" says Mr. DeLong. "That means that just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. …"


Right.  Forgot that.  No wonder I’ve been divorced twice.

And then there is Proverbs –


"One of the Proverbs says that 'a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, but she that maketh him ashamed is as rottenness in his bones," notes Mr. DeLong. "I bet President Bush is feeling pretty rotten today."


Perhaps he is feeling rotten.  Laura rags on him, in public, and the evangelical right get all hissy about her and calls HER out – after one really bad week…


The rebuke to the First Lady's stand-up act comes on the heels of mounting concern about the President's image. Last week, Mr. Bush was seen holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then the President raised eyebrows anew when he asked a crowd of supporters in Galveston, TX if they celebrated Splash Day, an annual gay pride event in that state, best known for attracting tens of thousands of buff men, wearing little more than suntan oil.

Even some members of Mr. Bush's famously loyal party looked askance at his recommendation during a speech on the nation's energy needs last week, when he encouraged Americans to consider driving hybrid vehicles, widely believed to be 'gay' cars.


What? GAY cars?  (Actually, you could look that up.  The Prius was recently identified by listeners to the National Public Radio show "Car Talk" as “the ultimate gay and lesbian car.”  And asked to choose between a Prius and a 2006 military-style, Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 Hummer H1, members of the far right site Free Republic dismissed those hybrid things as “vegan-weenie cars.”)

And too, Laura Bush compared herself to a desperate housewife, a reference to the wildly popular and rather risqué ABC show.  (It is risqué within the bounds of broadcast standards, of course.)  And of course this "Desperate Housewives" show has been a big target of the pro-family groups.  The American Decency Association has called for a boycott of ABC for airing this "degraded" show.  And the vice president’s wife, Lynn Cheney, six months ago, called for the federal government itself to intervene and protect all of America’s children from this very show.

How odd.

So, do we have a free-fall here?  Nothing seems to be working.

Consider this in the Washington Post as the week started – an item on Bush’s “madate” –


The day after he won a second term in November, President Bush offered his view of the new political landscape.

"When you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," he said, "and that's what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as president . . . and the people made it clear what they wanted, now let's work together."

Six months ago, this comment was widely viewed as more than just a postgame boast. Among campaign strategists and academics, there was ample speculation that Bush's victory, combined with incremental gains in the Republican congressional majority, signaled something fundamental: a partisan and ideological "realignment" that would reshape politics over the long haul.

As the president passed the 100-day mark of his second term over the weekend, the main question facing Bush and his party is whether they misread the November elections. With the president's poll numbers down, and the Republican majority ensnared in ethical controversy, things look much less like a once-a-generation realignment.


No kidding.

Digby over at Hullabaloo says this


Where do they come up with this stuff? Of course he has a mandate. Of course it's been a sweeping realignment. He won 51-49, a completely unambiguous indication of huge popular support, particularly for the centerpiece of his campaign, his social security plan. Why would anyone think otherwise? I thought we all understood that the vast majority of the country are social conservatives who support overturning Roe vs Wade, a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and remaking the courts in the image of Tom DeLay. Nothing could be clearer.


Ah, sarcasm.  But it works here.

But Digby actually is worked up about the press that was previously reporting –


… that Bush could claim support for anything he chose to do, given his "impressive" victory in November (which was impressive only in comparison to his previous "impressive" showing.) And the Democrats, properly chastened by their embarrassing defeat would support it also, because they are losers and wouldn't have the nerve to stand up to the codpiece collosus.


Well, that was the conventional wisdom, and the word in the corporate-owned press is follow-the-meme, report what is the conventional and preserve those rating or that circulation.  Understandable.

But it hasn’t happened.


… it hasn't worked out that way. And the press is scratching their little noggins and wondering if maybe Karl Rove's talking points didn't quite capture the limits of Bush's victory. Certainly, one could have interpreted a 2% win in the presidential race as something less than a validation of the president's most extreme positions, but why dwell on the negative?

Nobody in the mainstream press bothered to consider for even one moment that Bush might not be able to get support for the destruction of what was up to now known as the third rail in politics or that the public did not support the notion of fundamentalist preachers involved in the government. They just assumed it would be so.

Among the press it has been as if Bush has magical powers. He and Uncle Karl are thought to be so spectacularly gifted, in ways that they can't even comprehend, that they can accomplish the impossible.


Well, the magic is gone, it seems.  So it is time to report that.

Previous reporting?


After 9/11 (or maybe even before, when they anointed him in 2000 and told the rest of us to "get over it") they never once gave up the idea that Bush was a popular, extraordinary leader who only a few hippies in Hollywood and a couple of stiffs in New York didn't like because he talked funny. We had to fight that every step of the way in 2004 and still we came extremely close to winning.


And the probable truth?


There is no realignment. We are in a period of pure political combat in which the power could change dramatically in each election. There is no real middle, there are only two opposing forces. Nothing is predictable and anything could happen. The Republicans hold institutional power by only the most tenuous means, despite all their bluster about political dominance. And their biggest Achilles heel - as it has been forever - is hubris. Clearly, that is the story that one would have thought the press would see from the beginning; an administration that overreached its non-existent mandate in an intensely polarized political climate.

... For reasons I will never understand, the Washington press corpse invested itself in Junior's success early on. It's past time they woke up and realizes that the Republicans aren't political wizards.

Without 9/11 Bush wouldn't be president today. It's all he has, and all he ever had. No mandate, no realignment. No nothing. Karl Rove is not a genius.


And that is coming out.  As Digby says, well, better late than never.

So, do we have a new meme?



From TraditionalValues.Org –

TVC Victimized By Phony Press Release Criticizing First Lady Laura Bush


May 5, 2005 – Last weekend, an anonymous individual created a phony letter with an altered TVC logo on it, to criticize First Lady Laura Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on April 30th.

The bogus group called the Coalition for Traditional Values, issued its letter supposedly written by a Rev. Roy DeLong. The phony letter was picked up by the Drudge Report and reported it as fact instead of satire.

TVC’s phone has been ringing off the hook from reporters asking for more information. MSNBC was conned into thinking this was a real group. They called TVC to book a spokesman as a guest based on this satirical letter.

In her satirical statements at the correspondents’ dinner, the First Lady surprised the audience with her hilarious comments and many press reports indicate that she stole the show.

The Washington Times covered her comments and headlined the article: “Laura leaves ‘em laughing, gasping.” According to the Times, “she worked the ballroom like a seasoned stand-up comic.”

In her humorous remarks, she said: “George always says he’s delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He’s usually in bed by now. I’m not kidding. I said to him the other day, ‘George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later.’”

Rev. DeLong said in his satirical letter: “…we saw our President undermined, mocked and emasculated by his own wife on the most public of stages, and at a time when his manliness is already under attack. We saw the leader of the free world seemingly unable to lead his own family.”


Ah, too bad.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....