Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Pitch

In the entertainment and literary industries, they call it "the pitch". All writers, artists, filmmakers, and other entrepreneurs understand the need for a short, concise description of their endeavor as they seek funding or sponsorship. "The pitch" has to be framed and loaded with emotive words to convince the buyer that they must buy the product -- and quickly, before someone else gets in line in front of them or the buyer has second thoughts.

Turns out that the Whitehouse has (no surprise) some master pitchmen operating within the walls of the West Wing. A Karl Rove protege, Peter Wehner, is the architect of the full court press on disemboweling Social Security. If you have any doubts that the BushCo plan for the overall social safety net, developed over the past 60 or 70 years, is not simply to "reform" Social Security but to use any such pretense of reform as anything other than a jumping off point for dismantling all social programs and safety nets, read this:

Calling the effort "one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times," Peter Wehner, the deputy to White House political director Karl Rove, says in the e-mail message that a battle over Social Security is winnable for the first time in six decades and could transform the political landscape.

More of that "alternate reality" creation.

"We have it within our grasp to move away from dependency on government and toward giving greater power and responsibility to individuals," said Wehner, the director of White House Strategic Initiatives. He called the Democratic Party the "party of obstruction and opposition. It is the Party of the Past."

Yep. When you're 70, your compassionate conservative government will give you the responsibility for finding your own cardboard box to live in - or squarely put that responsibility with your children when you can no longer support yourself. After all, you supported those little suckers when they were growing up, right? So, a little geriatric tit-for-tat is their birthright now.

"We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course," the e-mail said. "That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the precondition to authentic reform."

When did the word "fact" become a synonym for "sales point"? Yesterday, I blogged about Paul Krugman becoming, in essence, one of the key debunkers of the pitchmen in the Whitehouse on the issue of Social Security. Subject matter experts (such as Krugman) in the reality-based world are starting to jump on the "facts" and get them out to the public.

But will it ultimately matter?

In my earlier posting on Social Security, I opined that the entire issue is a smokescreen for something much bigger. After making that post, conducting some more research, and recalling a news report I heard recently about Pennsylvania state taxes, the fog started lifting a bit.

Medicare. Medicaid.

Now, there's two programs that are really in serious trouble. But the interesting thing is, both of those programs entail some degree of cost sharing with the individual states. Every state in the union is struggling to fund its portion of these programs right now -- and there's just no way to do it without significant cutting of benefits and / or tax hikes at the state level.

Take a gander at your next paystub, and look at how much is going directly to Medicare / Medicaid.

I'm starting to think (though I haven't had the time to research or completely flesh out the thought yet) that the entire Social Security dustup is a public relations Trojan horse to set the stage for eliminating two medical programs which are (substantially) utilized by the poor and elderly. Shift the total responsibility back to the states, and the federal government has, in essence, plausible deniability for any failure in Medicare / Medicaid system.

Whener's code words, "giving greater power and responsibility to individuals" take on much deeper meaning when framed in the context of other social programs that have been developed by our (largely) progressive society over the past hundred years.

This isn't just about Social Security. It's about pitchmen and hucksters trying to sell you a 12 ounce bottle of social snakeoil now, so it'll be easier to convince you to upgrade to the 55 gallon drum later.

Update, 2:45PM - if you need a playbook to figure out which congresscritter to chase with a pitchfork on Social Security, Josh Marshall has been following the issue very closely, and has compiled a target list of prime suspects.