The Raving Right
May 9, 2005
Pity the rightwing intellectuals. After years of cultivating an attitude of smug contrarianism during the Clinton years, sneering from the sidelines, they now have to stick up for their team as it wields power. And what a team it is. Between the mess in Iraq, the sagging economy, oil prices, Terri Schiavo, Justice Sunday and Tom DeLay, it's hard to put a good face--let alone a superior one--on the Republican program.
But someone has to do it.
Thus, in his Sunday op-ed column in the New York Times, an uncharacteristically peevish David Brooks slams liberals for not getting on board with Bush's Social Security plan.
Brooks attacks Bush's critics for demagoguery. "Sometimes you had to walk through Democratic precincts in a gas mask, the lofty rhetoric was so thick. But now we have definitive proof that they didn't mean it. It was all hokum," writes Brooks.
Brooks's "proof" is that liberals won't acknowledge the merit of Bush's "redistributive" plan to index Social Security benefits to wages--so people who make more money absorb the proposed benefit cuts, while the poor, presumably, get more. Never mind that Social Security was specifically designed to withstand the kind of assault that brought down AFDC precisely because all Americans feel they have a stake in the program. Brooks surely knows this bit of history, but he chooses to ignore it.
"Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks?" he demands.
Who needs the gas mask now?
This is the administration that cut drug benefits for veterans at the same time it was handing out billions in tax cuts to the richest 1 percent of Americans.
As Paul Krugman points out on Monday's op-ed page in his excellent dissection of the floundering Bush Social Security plan, someone who makes $1 million a year received a tax cut from Bush worth $50,000 annually. Who needs Social Security when you're the lucky recipient of that kind of government largess? Repealing the Bush tax cut would solve the projected Social Security "crisis" and leave $8 trillion for all the programs for children and families David Brooks and his colleagues can stomach.
The Republicans want to say they are the ones who really care about the poor, because they would cut upper-income Social Security benefits more than lower-income benefits. (Upper income, in the Bush definition, now means quite a bit less than it used to, Krugman points out. Someone making $60,000 a year got a tax cut of $1,000 a year, but will get a Social Security benefit cut, under the Bush plan, of $6,500 annually. Take that you $60,000-a-year fat cats!)
The level of dishonesty in the Social Security plan is so overwhelming even Bush's Republican constituents aren't buying it.
Good thing the moderate Democrats Brooks scolds didn't get their way when they joined the bipartisan bandwagon to means-test the program. Then the largest and most effective anti-poverty program for the elderly might be headed the way of aid to poor single mothers and their children.
Instead, support for Social Security remains broad and deep. Bush's phony promise to "save" the program rings particularly hollow now, as Americans can't help but notice the way other recent promises--to find weapons of mass destruction, to bring peace and democracy to Iraq, to lift up the economy by accumulating staggering debt and handing out massive tax cuts to the rich--have panned out.
When the congenial public faces of the right start snarling, it's a sure sign they've recognized that things are going south.