Monday, August 25, 2008

Discouraging Candidates From Presenting "Tough Choices"

Anybody who reads the Washington Post's editorials knows that they're a huge advocate of Social Security reform, approaching the subject like Chicken Little - they'll run pretty much any piece about how the entire system is about to collapse on our heads. And Post readers also know that their unsigned editorials often appear to be unsigned because nobody with any sense of self-respect would want to attach their name to the piece.

Today, we get a twofer. Commencing with a whine about how candidates aren't willing to talk about fixing Social Security during a presidential election campaign, the Post devotes a paragraph to McCain's plan - or lack thereof. How he made a "no new taxes" pledge, followed by stating in specific relation to a possible payroll tax increase, "There is nothing I would take off the table," followed by a full retreat through a spokesperson:
"There is no imaginable circumstance where John McCain would raise payroll taxes," said spokesman Tucker Bounds. "It's absolutely out of the question." Except that it might not be. "Sen. McCain believes you can solve Social Security without raising taxes, but he also believes you can't start a negotiation with an ultimatum," said spokesman Taylor Griffin.
So what does the Post have to say about McCain's flip-flops on taxes, his complete lack of ideas, and his belief that you can fix deficits of all sorts with magic without raising taxes? Absolutely nothing.

Then then move to Obama, who actually has proposed measures to improve the future of Social Security. Yes, he's committed to increasing payroll taxes, but the tax won't be put into effect until the date of a projected shortfall between what Social Security takes in and what it pays out. Oh, the horror. The Post whines,
But surely President Obama could find some way to bring in money sooner without letting Congress fritter it away on other needs.
So they want Obama to start talking about... a Social Security lockbox? Right....

The Post then expresses that the additional Social Security taxes Obama would impose on the wealthiest taxpayers would be modest, describing that choice as "only sensible". They then complain that if imposed on all income as opposed to earned income it would be too high. Then they complain that even if the new tax is too high, it needs to be higher. No, wait, let's read between the lines: They're complaining that taxes also need to be raised on the middle class, but aren't honest enough to say that directly. Incredibly, they then offer these rhetorical questions:
So does Mr. Obama get credit for being brave - or foolhardy - enough to put out a tax proposal that is sure to be used against him? Does he get demerits for failing to be more specific, and more honest, about what will be required?
If you took the Post at face value, Obama would get credit for being brave. But if you read the Post's analysis, McCain gets kid gloves treatment for flip-flopping on payroll taxes and pretending that all budget woes can be fixed without tax increases. (If the author of this piece were more honest he might have noted that McCain's claiming to be able to do this while promising additional tax cuts.) Obama gets savaged for proposing a tax increase the Post deems inadequate.

Meanwhile, beyond the Post's lack of candor in relation to the new taxes it wants to impose on the middle class, the Post lacks the courage to share any specifics of what it believes to be necessary. The Post wants higher taxes? Who will pay them? What tax rates does it advocate? How will the "lockbox" work? The Post wants the new taxes to be implemented soon. When?
Or does it turn out, sadly, that the "textbook Washington campaign" he derided Clinton for running, in which "you don't present tough choices directly to the American people for fear that your answers might not be popular, you might make yourself a target for Republicans in the general election," has something to recommend it after all.
Republicans, nothing. If the Post's conduct is any indication, proposing any sort of tough choice makes you a target for mendacious unsigned editorials.

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