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Monday, May 02, 20051115046000

Network Politics, Part 4, 2GW/4GW: Social Security

Note: This is a selection from Network Politics, a tdaxp series.


"John Thune Wants to Steal Your Social Security Money," by Chad Shuldt, Clean Cut Kid, 29 April2005, http://www.cleancutkid.com/2005/04/29/john-thune-want-to-steal-your-social-security-money/.

"The Greediest Generation," by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 1 May 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/opinion/01kristof.html.

"Bush's Social Security gamble puts pressure on Democrats," USA Today, 1 May 2005, http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-05-01-gamble-edit_x.htm (from Stanley Kurtz on The Corner).

"In Praise of Bush's Honesty (Honest)," by Michael Kinsley, Washington Post, 1 May 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/30/AR2005043000746.html.

"The Challenge to Democrats," Washington Post, 1 May 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/30/AR2005043000734.html.

"Programs for the poor always turn into poor programs," by DavidNYC, Daily Kos, 1 May 2005, http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/5/2/04027/69305.

"Or, perhaps make it mandatory," by Michael Forbush, Dr. Forbush Thinks, 2 May 2005, http://drforbush.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/04/29/private_accounts.html#c96453.

"Welfare for Old People?," by Kevin Drum, Political Animal, 2 May 2005, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_05/006230.php.

Until very recently the Social Security debate looked like this

Key: Blue, rejectionists; Red, reformers; solid lines, mutual support; arrow lines, mutual opposition

On the right you have a fourth generation political movement. The debate for personal accounts is part of the decades-old Conservative insurgency. The movement is basically horizontal, with no clear leader. Instead, it is driven by an ideological agenda...

On the left you have a second generation movement. A type of movement defined by media and mass mobilization, the 2GP had one message: "No!" Some are older liberals, some are anti-Conservatives, some are just worried about innovations.

Note that the left (2GP) network is more symetrical and "better" organized. The simplicity of its message allows it to focus on "better" organization, because individual members do not have to be indoctrinated or kept in some ideology. In contrast, the strength of the right (4GP) network is its ideology, so chain-of-communication is abandoned in favor of an immersive environment.

because for any new thing, all who would be harmed by it oppose it fully, and those who would be helped support it only half-heartedly, the rejectionist camp was much larger than the innovators. In a fair fight, the No!'s would quickly fun and the idea of social security personal accounts would go away.

Unfortunately for them, fourth generation movements do not fight "fair."

Fourth generation movements are governed by ideology. Almost every proposal is just a means of furthering that ideology. With very few exceptions, for 4G movements direction matters more than speed. Unlike the rejectionists, who are married to a specific proposal ("No!"), the 4G ideologues can modify their proposals to break part the enemy network, so long as the direction of the proposal furthers their ideology. This can also be a weapon of politics, where network collapse becomes an operational objective.

In his Thursday press conference, Bush did exactly that. He heavily modified his original proposal to increase the payments for SS higher earners by only inflation, but SS lower earners by wages. Over the decades, this means there will eventually be only a flat SS payment for everybody.

What's the effect?

Clean Cut Kid

There is one proposal out there that is based around “progressive” indexing, and it’s likely to be presented to Congress since “everything is on the table” (other than keeping Social Security as close to possible in its current state). But make no mistake about it, progressive indexing is just another scheme to rob working people of the money they have already paid into the system through taxation on every dollar they worked to earn.

This is highway robbery, and it’s just plain wrong. Some would say it is not very Christian.

Kevin Drum

Hear hear. In fact, when his aides presented him with their initial Social Security proposals 70 years ago, FDR balked: "No dole," he said, "mustn't have a dole" — because he knew instinctively that welfare programs are both fundamentally unpopular as well as corrosive to the human spirit. Conservatives understand this better than liberals, and know perfectly well that the best way to kill something is to convince the public that it's actually a welfare program.

Michael Forbush

Since George W Bush actually wants to destroy social security he has proposed a two step process. First, get people to put their money in the stock market instead of a social security insurance plan. Then tell the people that it is stupid for the government to take your money and invest it for you, hence you should be free to invest it yourself. In fact, George's new details recently explained at the press conference show that he is trying to erode political support for the program by means testing. This will result in turning the Social Security program into another welfare program and make it even easier to destroy in the future.

daily Kos

This so-called "Pozen plan" is a real Bush two-fer: Sock it to the middle classes now, while setting up a long-range plan to truly hose the poor later. Given how badly Bushco stumbled in trying to destroy Social Security with private accounts, I wouldn't be surprised if means-testing has become the new avenue of attack because it polled better.

And oh, it's a wily plan, alright - if Democrats oppose it, we can rely on our whore media to paint us as benefactors of the wealthiest. (The GOP will get a good chortle out of that.) Not means-testing Social Security has been one of the main reasons it's endured so popularly for 70 years. Private accounts would eviscerate Social Security quickly; means-testing is a slower death, but I am sure a patient GOP would be content with that.

but also this

New York Times

In coming years, we'll hear appeals for better nursing homes, for more Alzheimer's research and for more wheelchair-accessible office buildings, and those are good causes. But remember that American children are almost twice as likely as the elderly to live in poverty, and that you get much more bang for the buck vaccinating a child than paying for open-heart surgery.

The solution is not to force the elderly to get by on cat food again. But we boomers need to resist the narcissistic impulse to ladle out more resources for ourselves. Our top domestic priorities should be to ensure that all children get health care and to get our fiscal house in order.

USA Today

Simply ignoring the problem, which is driven primarily by increasing life expectancy, is not a solution. Nor is touting private accounts as the answer. A good-faith, bipartisan effort to spread the pain as equitably as possible is the only viable option. Ultimately, the solution will have to involve some mixture of tax increases, benefit cuts and, perhaps, private accounts.

Bush's willingness to begin addressing that unpleasant reality puts pressure on Democrats to do the same. They have refused to negotiate until Bush gives up on private accounts, but eventually they'll have to do more than complain.

They don't want Bush's dessert course because it's politically unpalatable. And they don't want the spinach because the taste is too bitter. So what do they want? What dish do they intend to contribute to this political potluck?

Washington Post

For thepast three months Democrats have declined to engage in a debate over Social Security. President Bush proposed a way of giving workers the option, but not the obligation, of saving some of their Social Security money in personal accounts. While he was crisscrossing the country in an attempt to prepare voters for unsettling change, Democrats offered no proposals of their own, saying that Mr. Bush should first come forward with a plan to plug Social Security's long-term deficit. In his news conference on Thursday, Mr. Bush took a first step toward offering such a plan. It is time for Democrats to reciprocate.

Washington Post (Again)

Above all, Bush was honest and even courageous about Social Security. Social Security is entirely about writing checks: Money goes in, money goes out. As Bush has discovered in the past few months, there are no shadows to hide in while you fiddle with it. The problem is fewer and fewer workers supporting more and more retirees, and there are only two possible solutions: Someone has to pay more in, and/or someone has to take less out.

Bush didn't go from explicitly denying this to explicitly admitting it. But he went from implicitly suggesting that his privatization scheme is a pain-free solution to implicitly endorsing a plan for serious benefit cuts. For a politician, that's an admirable difference.

Even more to Bush's credit, the plan he's backing is highly progressive. Benefits for low-income workers would keep rising with average wages, as now, but benefits for middle- and high-income people would be geared more toward merely keeping up with inflation. This allows Bush to say that no one's benefits will be cut, although some people will be getting as much as 40 percent less than they are currently promised. But in the swamp of Social Security politics, that is really minimal protection from the alligators.

What has happened? Answer: fourth generation insurgents have disrupted and partially disintegrated a second generation network. Further, the conservative agents have turned part of the "Democrat" network against itself, simultaneously radicalizing and weakening their enemy while growing in strength themselves.


Key: Blue, rejectionists; Red, reformers; Orange, rejectionists ready to deal; Dark Blue, extreme rejectionists; solid lines, mutual support; arrow lines, mutual opposition

The Reformists have flanked the front-lines of the "No" camp, converting Statusquo leaders into fellow travelers for the reformers. More than just strengthening the reformist camp, this demoralizes and radicalizes some remaining rejectionists. They feel abandoned by their leadership, who are now making common cause with the enemy network. While the converted reformist leaders see themselves as "bridging the divide," rejectionist true believers see them as traitors.


Key: Blue, rejectionists; Red, reformers; Orange, "weak-kneed" rejectionists; solid lines, mutual support; arrow lines, mutual opposition

This is exactly the same network as the last one, but seem from the radicalized rejectionists perspective. The only blue friendlies are those actively opposing the reformist agenda. The converted leadership are seen as full-fledged members of the opposition. And the remaining leadership that is not fighting the enemy network are seen as potential quislings -- when Democrat netroots talk about "Washington Democrats," they mean the loyal leadership that is willing to compromise with those who have compromised. Note also that extremists do not distinguish between extremists and moderates, but only between "fellow-fighters" and others.

What does this all mean?

George Bush is leading the social security reformers to victory. He is splitting the network of doubt that is opposing him into a divided and weak opposition. He is converting those who he can. And he is winning.

Update: Blogs for Bush notes that now the New York Times is ready to deal

Democrats like to portray Mr. Bush as King George or Marie Antoinette. But on Thursday night, when he promised to improve benefits for the poor while limiting them for everyone else, he sounded more like Robin Hood, especially when he rhapsodized about poor people getting a chance to build up assets that they could pass along to their children.

It was the kind of talk you might expect to hear from a Democrat, except that Democrats don't talk about much these days except the glories of the New Deal. They know that Social Security doesn't even have the money to sustain a program that leaves millions of elderly people in poverty. But it's their system, and they're sticking to it.

Update 2: Chirol at Coming Anarchy notes what is another type of network fragmentation and radicalization in the face of a net-attack.

Network Politics, a tdaxp series
Introduction: Net-Attacks and Counter-Attacks
Part 1, 0GW / 4GW: Iraqi Sunnis
Part 2, 0GW / 4GW: Christian Conservatives
Part 3, 1GW / 4GW: George Soros
Part 4, 2GW / 4GW: Social Security
Part 5, 4GW / 4GW: John Kerry


Who is Bush winning?


The poll, conducted April 29 to May 1, found that 81 percent of respondents believed that the program would need major changes in the coming years.

Thirty-five percent of respondents said they approved of Bush's handling of Social Security, while 58 percent said they disapproved.

Posted by: Chad | Monday, May 02, 2005

Bush is winning the editorial page of the Washington Post, the editorial page of USA Today, Nick Christoff, Mike Kinsley...

Ironically, the part that caused the greatest screams from the netroots (progressive indexing) brings the greatest glee from the MSM. Bush is also winning in his attempt to split the MSM from the netroots.

Bush is winning in his attempt to isolate Reid and Pelosi from their political backers. His Thursday press conference changed the correlation of forces, and made the MSM criticize the Democrat leadership.

Last, Bush is winning the American people. More Americans than ever before believe Social Security needs major changes. This is furthering Bush's victories that I listed above.

What specific combination of "re-welfare-izing" social security, cuts in planned spending, and encouraged private savings is made remains to be seen. What is known is that Bush is advancing the Conservative agenda by making all of these much more likely.

Posted by: Dan | Monday, May 02, 2005