An Election Year Carnival Game
       by Gene Lyons

     You know that ad for Sen. Tim Hutchinson that's on TV every five minutes?
The one where he's wearing a casual blue shirt like Kim Hanke, Arkansas' downhome siding salesman?
Hutchinson peers into the camera and solemnly allows he's always believed the promise of Social Security is sacred."
He says "in Congress he's working hard with President Bush to strengthen our Social Security system to
guarantee benefits to seniors and future retirees."

     Well, he's not telling the truth. Or rather, GOP senate hopeful Lindsey Graham, the former House impeachment
manager from South Carolina isn't, because I retrieved the quote from an article about his campaign commercials
in the Greenville News. Graham's wording is virtually identical to Hutchinson's, however, because both ads were
crafted in the same shop: the National Republican Congressional Committee.

     The prototype for both commercials was John Boozman's last-minute ad barrage in the Nov. 2001 special
election to replace Hutchinson's brother, Asa, as Arkansas's third district congressman. Democrat Mike Hathorn
had been cutting into Boozman's lead by attacking Republican plans to "privatize" Social Security by diverting
payroll taxes into speculative investments.

     Shaken by Boozman's diminishing lead in a strongly Republican district, GOP imagineers crafted an ad heavy on
buzzwords like "sacred," "promise," and "guarantee."   It worked well enough to prevent Boozman from falling on his face. Now Republicans hope to deceive enough voters about President Junior's plan to turn Social Security into a taxpayer-funded stockbroker subsidy to bring Hutchinson and Graham limping in ahead of their Democratic opponents.

     The sheer cynicism of the NRCC campaign cannot be overstated. It assumes that voters are like the bleating sheep
of Orwell's "Animal Farm," easily fooled by repeating imbecile slogans.The simple fact is that George W. Bush ran for
president on the same "privatization" catch phrase Republican propagandists now call a malicious distortion.

     Doubt me? Here's a simple home computer experiment. Go to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's archives, and search
the words "social AND security AND privatization" for 2000. The first item that jumps up is a May 16, 2000 front page
story in this dependably Republican newspaper headlined "Bush would like to start privatizing Social Security."
Here's the lead: "George W. Bush proposed letting Americans invest Social Security taxes in the stock market Monday, appealing for support from the millions of people who have thrived in a booming market."

     Bush later proposed allowing taxpayers to divert 4 percent of the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax into
private investment accounts. He promised to do it without cutting retirement or disability benefits. In a column entitled  "Courage and the Demagogue," Democrat-Gazette columnist Bradley R. Gitz praised Bush's visionary plan and
denounced Deocratic nominee Al Gore's craven appeal to arithmetic.

     So did the rest of the newspaper's right-leaning columnists and editorialists. I recall a particularly disingenuous editorial tut-tutting about timid Democratic objections to "investing" a mere 4 percent. What Bush actually proposed, of course,
was privatizing almost one third of the Social Security payroll tax. It was one reason the Democrat-Gazette endorsed him.

     Then came Enron, WorldCom, the market collapse, fraud and chicanery everywhere. Voters who' failed to heed
Al Gore's warning about Bush's "risky scheme" endangering Social Security's fiscal soundness showed signs of waking up.

     Republicans decided to solve the problem by lying.
First, they changed the buzzword for the same crackpot idea to "personal accounts."

     Then they blamed the imaginary left-wing media. On August 26, the NRCC put out a memo claiming that:
"Privatization" is a false and misleading word insofar as it is being used by Democrats to describe Republican positions
on Social Security."  To the extent that reporters are wittingly or unwittingly complicit in the Democrat strategy to make "personal accounts" and "privatization" one in the same, they are using the power of the press to promote inaccurate
Democrat spin and taking sides in the midterm elections.

          "The Bush team's Orwellian propensities" wrote New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul  Krugman
"have long been apparent to anyone following its pronouncements on economics. Even during campaign 2000 these pronouncements relied on doublethink, the ability to believe two contradictory things at the same time. For example,
George W. Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security always depended on the assertion that 2-1=4 that we can divert payroll taxes into high-yielding personal accounts, yet still use the same money to pay benefits to retirees."

          As recently as July 24, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Bush still favored privatization.
Hutchinson voted for a resolution endorsing it; now he pretends the vote was about something different.

     Look folks, it ain't that complicated. Hutchinson and the GOP want you to play a carnival shell game.
Three shells, one pea. Whatever you call it, all the sacred guarantees, gilt-embossed certificates or stuffed
teddy bears on the midway don't change the odds or the arithmetic.

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