Let's See What Other Fun & Games We Have
By Rex Nutting, April 10, 2005 WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - The Bush administration has spent millions of dollars in the past two months on its campaign to overhaul Social Security, narrowly skirting laws that prohibit spending of taxpayer funds to indirectly lobby Congress.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and more than 20 other administration officials have blanketed the country since early February, delivering more than 100 speeches in 37 states in an effort to rally the public behind Bush's Social Security plans.
Although no hard figures on costs are available, rough calculations show the White House and other agencies have spent at least $2.2 million on the campaign so far....
At the Treasury Department, four full-time public relations aides have been hired to run the Social Security information center, nicknamed "the war room," that tracks congressional and public opinion.
The four aides coordinate public events, matching administration officials with congressmen and others who are sponsoring events across the nation. They also maintain a website that serves as a central clearinghouse for the administration's lobbying efforts.
The Treasury secretary is one of four administration officials who serve on the Social Security board of trustees. The Social Security Administration is an independent agency meant to be nonpartisan.
Even as the White House has excluded opponents of privatization from even the audience at its events, the administration forced the cancellation of one event on Social Security sponsored by liberal groups at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., on the grounds that the speakers were one-sided against Bush.
Let's tease this out a little.
First, of all we have the soft and genial form of the thuggery from Europe in the 1930's where your partisans break up the same sort of rally of your opponents, as you create for yourself.
Second, we have a couple of million dollars and change blown on a barely legal (maybe) junket lobbying Congress, and one in which the Treasury Secretary is involved in an obvious and blatant conflict of interest. In addition, after the 2+ million has been spent, the New York Times now has this headline: Bush to Shift His Social Security Focus to Solutions.
Really? Solutions! So what has he been talking about up to now? Nonsense, of course. What else? Why? First of all, because the only thing even remotely intelligible about Bush's views on Social Security so far is that a portion of it should be used to support commissions for Wall Street brokerage firms. The rest is just details. And, as we know, the President doesn't trouble himself with details before starting a war, so why would he trouble with them now?
Moreover, he has merely been running from city to city talking to people already convinced that Social Security is in a "crisis" which requires Bush to act without anybody raising any serious questions about what he proposes to do. After all, his handlers don't just put shills in the audience for his speeches, they get him an audience of all shills. Nobody else even gets to hear what he has to say. I'd be willing to bet that even most local TV news outlets don't bother with a sound bite.
Now think about that a little. Bush has his own Saturday radio show. If he had anything convincing to say about Social Security to anyone but his own handpicked audience, he could say it there, and it would probably be widely reported. He could also grandiloquently schedule a major speech at some event that the national news media could really cover, a convention of Wall Street brokers, perhaps, where he would not have to take questions. This would be the perfect vehicle for presenting serious proposals and have them well covered for the sake of an open public examination of the issues.
He hasn't done anything like this. And he's losing.
The continued turbulation of the political waters over Social Security, with no concrete proposals to offer, has merely made the public more and more gunshy about attempting any action at all. Those of us on the other side of the "privatization" issue haven't even had to work hard to raise serious doubts about the wisdom of it. The way the White House has gone about this has done 3/4 of our work for us. In all probability, it is dead in the water.
So what has George really been getting out of it?
I can't claim to knowledge of it, of course, but I strongly suspect that the reason he has been traveling all over America speaking to small, handpicked, audiences and to no one else, is simply that he enjoys it. It is Presidential recreation. He likes doing it better than merely sitting in the Oval Office and doing his job in Washington. He likes it almost as much as the incredible number of "working vacations" he takes back on his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
He has just spent an entire presidential campaign barnstorming to cheering crowds, in a way which bears the same relation to real popular politics that jacklighting deer does to deer hunting. It was too much fun, and he doesn't want to give it up. So don't be surprised if he keeps doing this sort of thing about every issue he's interested in, whether it works or not, all the way to January 20, 2009.