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Simpson’s Arrogant, Uninformed Social Security Rant: A Turning Point?

Jane has already taken aim at the right-wing triumph of ignorance around Alex Lawson’s challenge to Alan Simpson of the cat food commission. But I think there’s just as big a story here: the distancing by even elite commentators of Simpson’s remarks. You just wouldn’t expect to see this coming from Pete Peterson’s Fiscal Times:

…at 78, the irascible Simpson is also known for pithy and colorful language, which was on vivid display last week in a video interview with a representative of Social Security Works, a liberal group opposed to cuts in benefits. Simpson was also condescending and derisive–and wildly wrong about important parts of the Social Security system’s past.

Most of all, he gave no hint that he understood that, for the commission’s proposals to be adopted, advocacy groups will have to be persuaded that the package is necessary and fair–whether the groups’ concerns are about entitlements, taxes or other issues. In short, what Simpson did was to undermine the already slim chances of politicians agreeing on a way to put the government on a sustainable long-term budget policy path.

John Berry says that like it’s a bad thing.

I feel like Lawson’s effort has woken some people up. Simpson is dead serious about cutting Social Security, and impervious to reason. He’s content to peddle B.S. and bully through his critics and get his prized New Deal rollback across the finish line. I think some of the establishment saw this deficit commission as a novelty before. No longer. Here’s Paul Krugman:

On Social Security, Simpson is repeating a zombie lie — that is, one of those misstatements that keeps being debunked, but keeps coming back.

Specifically, Simpson has resurrected the old nonsense about how Social Security will be bankrupt as soon as payroll tax revenues fall short of benefit payments, never mind the quarter century of surpluses that came first.

But here’s what you can’t do: you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that for the last 25 years, when Social Security ran surpluses, well, that didn’t mean anything, because it’s just part of the federal government — but when payroll taxes fall short of benefits, even though there’s lots of money in the trust fund, Social Security is broke […]

So what does it mean that the co-chair of the commission is resurrecting this zombie lie? It means that at even the most basic level of discussion, either (a) he isn’t willing to deal in good faith or (b) the zombies have eaten his brain. And in either case, there’s no point going on with this farce.

Despite the bare-bones nature of Nancy Altman’s Social Security Works, there’s still a residual understanding of the importance of retirement security to the Democratic project of governance. A lot of people are going to take Simpson’s rant to heart now, picking it apart for its obvious flaws. Similarly, more will take Social Security Works more seriously now, as virtually the only group trying to put a spotlight on this commission. And so we should read the Fiscal Times’ disappointed essay as one of sorrow, that the rubes have caught on to the plan. The elites are depressed that those darn progressives might ruin their grand fantasy of shattering the social safety net.

And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling kid with a camera.

UPDATE: MoveOn just really escalated, by calling on Simpson to resign in an email to supporters.

I’ll bet you know a lot of good people who depend on their Social Security check. Hard-working folks who have contributed their whole lives and now need those checks. Like my grandparents. Or your grandparents. Or your parents. Or you.

Well, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson was just caught on camera calling them “lesser people.”

That kind of condescending disrespect would be infuriating coming from anyone, but Senator Simpson isn’t just anyone. He’s a co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which is charged with finding ways to cut the deficit.

And Simpson is joining with the other right-wing ideologues on the “deficit commission” to find a way to cut Social Security for those “lesser people”—even though Social Security hasn’t caused the deficit.

Someone with Senator Simpson’s disdainful attitude and ideological commitment to cutting Social Security has no business serving in this powerful position. This video shows it’s time for him to resign.

Can you check out the video, join our call for Simpson to resign, and then pass on the video to your friends?

This means that lots more people will see the Simpson video.

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David Dayen

David Dayen