Thursday, February 14, 2013







Rhetoric By Molotov


“One false step and our enemies would be upon us surely comrades you don’t want Jones to come back?”

-George Orwell, Animal Farm (p. 22), 1945



Before the President found his inner progressive on Tuesday evening, he dialed up his usual rhetoric about the deficit.   He stated

Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms. Otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations. But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful.
(APPLAUSE)

We won't grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers and more cops and more firefighters. Most Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that's the approach I offer tonight.

President Obama won't ask elderly people and the working class to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction- only a large portion of it.  Similarly,  he won't 'grow' the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto struggling families or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, police officers, and firefighters.  That is part of the plan, not its entirety.

But that's not all.  Obama noted "the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care."  But then he cleverly added "for an aging population," thereby suggesting that the cost of health care is due to the elderly people receiving it- and the Medicare program paying for it.    Dean Baker, however, recently debunked the argument that baby boomers entering retirement are dumping the costs of Social Security and Medicare onto the younger generation.  He explained

The imbalance on the Medicare side stems from the fact that we pay twice as much per person for our health care as the average for people in other wealthy countries. This is not the result of us getting better care; we don’t generally have better outcomes than people in other countries. It is the result of the fact that we pay more for our care. This means that our doctors get paid much higher salaries (our autoworkers and retail clerks don’t), we pay far more for our drugs, our medical equipment and everything else in our health care system.

This is a story of class war: rich people getting richer from the inefficiency and corruption in the health care system. 

"The problem," Baker had observed on another occasion, "is not the American people getting what they want" but "the health care industry using its political power to extort incredible sums from the rest of us."

Intent on deception, Obama pledged "on Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission."

There was no reform proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission; there was nothing proposed by the commission because there was no report issued by the commission.   Today, Baker noted

Just as little kids like to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, Washington insiders like to believe that the Bowles Simpson commission issued a report. Of course the commission did not issue a report.

The commission's by-laws state that a report would need the support of 14 of the 18 members of the commission. There was no report that met threshold and in fact no formal vote was ever taken on any report. The document in question should properly be referred to as the report of the co-chairs, former Senator Alan Simpson and Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles.

It might be painful to accept the truth, but there is no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy or Bowles-Simpson Commission report.

If there was an intent to deceive on Medicare and Simpson-Bowles, Social Security could not be far behind.  And it wasn't.  The President contended  

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? Why is it that deficit reduction is a big emergency, justifying making cuts in Social Security benefits, but not closing some loopholes? How does that promote growth?

In George Orwell's classic Animal Farm, Squealer (representing Vyacheslav Molotov) stated "surely, comrades, you don't want Jones back?"  Asked in that fashion, it was obvious no one should want Farmer Jones to return.  Similarly, President Obama asks, rhetorically, "Why is it that deficit reduction is a big emergency, justifying making cuts in Social Security benefits but not closing some loopholes?"  That leaves the mistaken and injurious impression that deficit reduction requires both.  By saying that deficit reduction requires not only "cuts in Social Security benefits (but also) closing some loopholes," he conflates the deficit and Social Security.

Before going on to the liberal, reality-based portions of his address, President Obama first tried to establish his credentials on the economy by appealing to the crowd that worships bipartisanship.  If he had to enhance fallacies about entitlements and the deficit reduction panel he created, it was all, he might suppose, in a good cause.


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