Of Cows & Simpson

Keith Olbermann had a great segment last night on Social Security Deficit Commission co-chair Alan Simpson and his bizarre email rant attacking a Social Security and its beneficiaries as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” Simpson has since offered a non-apology apology and the White House has said they will keep him on the panel.

I actually think that this is an OK outcome for those of us that don’t want to see Social Security cut. Simpson is a crank and clearly not a respectable character. But the more relevant side of this incident is that it reveals Simpson and the commission writ large as being incapable of thinking thoughtfully about the range of opinions on Social Security.  Eric Laursen points out some of the things beyond character that Simpson’s comments are instructive of the prejudices he brings into the commission:

So while they perhaps wouldn’t use quite the same language, it’s reasonable to suspect that many or even most of Simpson’s colleagues share the attitudes about Social Security that are reflected in his comments. The commission’s most important meetings are held in secret. It would be nice to know the substance of their discussions, but also the tone: Do they see Social Security recipients as human beings, or as leeches? Do they regard the program itself as a worthy enterprise, or as a multi-million-headed beast, sucking the taxpayer dry?

Do they have any sense of what life would be like for most Americans without old-age or survivors’ benefits?

It’s likely that were Simpson ousted, he would be replaced with someone who shared the very same opinions of Social Security, the misguided and ideologically driven assumption that it added to the deficit (it does not), and these prejudices would be masked by a demeanor less offensive than Simpson’s. That is, at least with Simpson we have a wolf in wolf’s clothing. A replacement might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

As Laursen points out, the best way to ensure that Simpson’s prejudices are not dominant ones in the commission is for the commission to hold all of their meetings open to the public and the press. This should be happening anyway, but Simpson’s repeated outbursts make a shift towards openness critical. Otherwise it’s hard to conclude that the Fix is not already In.

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