Democratic Forensic Folly #728: Rebutting an intrinsically disingenuous argument mainly by pointing out its logical inconsistencies.

January 17, 2005

Not to pick on Al Franken, but whatever he’s paying his co-host Katherine Lanpher, it ain’t enough.

Witness this excerpt from Friday’s show where Mr. Franken succumbs to Democratic Forensic Folly #728: Rebutting an intrinsically disingenuous argument mainly by pointing out its logical inconsistencies:

FRANKEN: The President is going around saying the Social Security system is in crisis, which it is not. It just is not.  The Social Security system is on sounder footing now than it has been for most of the 70 year history of it.   Without altering any part of it, its Trustees say, it can pay full benefits straight through 2042.  Over the next 42 years, its shortfall will amount to just 0.7% of national income according to the Trustees or 0.4% according to the Congressional Budget Office.   That still amounts to—that’s real money—but compared to Bush’s Medicare drug benefit—that’s more than twice the size.   Bush’s tax cuts, if permanently extended, would be nearly 4 times as much, the cost.

Now, part of the way they’re trying to sell the crisis is—Bush said this the other day:

“In the year 2018, in order to take care of baby boomers like me, the money going out is going to exceed the money coming in.”

Now that’s not a crisis, because we’ve been building, building, building surpluses in the Trust Fund for years.   So that’s—and that’s—-because baby boomers will at that time in 2018, demographically, at that point there’ll be more money going out than coming in, but it’ll still be very close.

But guess what?  If you start privatizing it like Bush wants to do, when do you think the Social Security system will start taking in less than it pays out?

LANPHER: I don’t know.

FRANKEN: 2006.  (Starts laughing.)

LANPHER: That’s according to who?

FRANKEN: To Peter Orszag at Brookings, who is the expert on this stuff.  Because the plan is…

LANPHER: That’s in a year!

FRANKEN: Yes, that’s soon as it starts.   Because the plan is that “young workers”—whatever that means—2/3’s of the money they pay into FICA (that’s the withholding tax you pay—you pay—for Social Security) will go into your private account and will not be going into the Social Security Trust Fund.   But the Trust Fund will be paying out the exact same amount.   Because as you remember Bush promising seniors, “Your benefits will not go down.”  So as soon as this program goes into effect.

So if that’s their judge, it’ll take in less than it sends out.   So if that’s their judge of what a crisis is—and that isn’t what a crisis is—the crisis is greatly accelerated on their terms.

I think that’s our ad.   Show Bush saying “Social Security is going to start taking in less than it pays out in 2018.”   Then you have the announcer,

“President Bush says the Social Security Trust Fund will start taking in less money than it pays out in 2018.  But under Bush’s plan, the Trust Fund starts taking in less than it pays out in 2006.   It’s making something that isn’t a problem, a problem—and making it worse!  He gave you a giant deficit.  He’s created no new jobs, and now he wants to make Social Security go broke?!”

You see the benefit of this is that they’d then have to explain it.  I mean this is like their ads, their misleading ads, except this is actually, like, honest.   And then they’d have to do a real complicated explanation.

LANPHER:  No they wouldn’t.  They wouldn’t.

FRANKEN: I don’t know what they would do.   I don’t know how you would explain that.

LANPHER:  You wouldn’t have to, if you’re going to rely on a misleading ad to answer.


Yes it’s true that, as that old saying of solicitors goes,

"When the facts are on your side, bang on the facts.

When the law is on your side, bang on the law.

When neither the facts nor the law are on your side, bang on the table,"

but that doesn’t mean that once your opponent starts banging on the table that you can just keep calmly arguing the facts and the law and be sure of winning over the proverbial jury.   Banging on the table is done precisely to distract people from the facts and the law.  For remembering this basic fact, Ms. Lanpher deserves a raise.


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