Sunday, May 08, 2005

David Brooks Exposes a Key Rhetorical Trick in the Social Security Debate

Everybody picks on David Brooks, so I try not to do it too often. In the Times today, though, he exposes a Republican lie about Bush's Social Security plan that everyone should watch out for.

Call it the "Bush is a progressive" swerve.

Here are Brooks' own words: "He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty.

He has asked us to redistribute money down the income scale. Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks?"

See, Brooks' editors won't let him print an outright lie, so he has to admit that the Bush plan calls for benefit cuts on the middle-class. What he doesn't tell you is that under the Bush plan, the "middle class" starts at the paltry income of $20,000 a year. But, more tellingly, he immediately switches topics. He mentions the middle class cuts but he talks about Donald Trump, as if the Donald is really the one bearing the burden here.

Brooks is even angry about Bush opponents who bring up the middle class cuts, rather than his more comforting "take it from Trump" angle: "The Democratic leadership has dropped all that shared sacrifice talk and started making demagogic appeals to people's narrow self-interest. Nancy Pelosi cries out that Bush's progressive indexing idea means 'cutting the benefits of middle-class seniors.'"

So, I get it, Mr. Brooks. We're all supposed to make the sacrifice, but we're not allowed to debate it. I can see why Brooks wants to avoid this debate. To write an honest column supporting the Bush Social Security plan, he needs to come out and say that he believes that the middle class, broadly defined, has it easy enough that they should give up their retirement benefits. He'll have to face criticism from middle class retirees who, even under the current system, are just scraping by. He would have to answer that criticism by telling them what they could or should do without. He'd have to take the very hard to defend position that the vast majority of American retirees deserve less than they'regetting, in the face of a reality that tells us that they probably deserve more.

It's funny, but when Bush wanted to cut taxes, he gave more to the rich than to anyone else. But when it comes to a plan that takes something from the rich, well, everybody right down to a person make 20 grand a year has to sacrifice. To further the debate on Bush's Social Security Plan, people like Brooks want to conflate the middle and upper classes. But they've never done that before, not on any other issue.

They want you to hink about The Donald getting a monthly check that even he'd admit that he doesn't need. While you're thinking about that, they'll actually be picking your pocket.


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