Saturday, January 29, 2005

Definition of Terms, Pelosi on Social Security

It's hard to have a productive discussion without a clear definition of terms, or so I'm told. (Well, so I was told a long time ago. Discussions I've heard lately have their substance in shrieking accusations of dubious credibility, fantastic assertions of conspiracy, and so forth. Nuff said. We've all heard 'em.) Today, for want of clear definitions, I'm confused.

The subject of my current muddled state begins with House Democratic Leader Rep. (D-CA) Nancy Pelosi's Legislative Briefing on Thursday. In the spirit of a fair exchange of ideas, I transcribed the whole thing. Did my very best to be accurate, except I removed a lot of the uh's and um's. (I think leaving them in makes a speaker look stupid, even when they represent the natural hesitation of a person who is speaking off the cuff. And if a person is verifiably stupid, you just don't need to do that, do you? Parenthetic lecture is now over.) Here's the transcript:

Last time we met - I began our session here - by commenting on the sadness we all felt in losing our colleague - Congresswoman Bob Matsui, to - hoping that the next time - we came together - we could start on a happier note ...
Am I confused about the gender of Congressman Bob Matsui? No. She misspoke, of course. A little freudian slip, possibly because she was thinking of this.
...but sadly, yesterday was the deadliest day in the Iraq war. So many of our young people lost. - we must always express our gratitude for their courage, their patriotism, and the sacrifice that they are willing to make. Of course we all join in sending our deepest sympathy to their families. I know that the State of Hawaii is particularly hard hit in this time. California has had a large, large number of casualties and injuries so - we have felt that - and now Hawaii is feeling a large number as well. Of course we also observe today the sixtieth anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz and the camps and - we must always remember - that - man's cruelty to man has no place in a civilized society, outside the circle of civilized human behavior. That's why I'm so pleased that all of the attention is being placed on Rwanda now - past tragedy - but focusing on Darfur - which challenges the conscience of the soul, and gives us no excuse for taking the appropriate action.
We're not touching any of this. Don't even go there.
The subject of - of our conversation today is going to be social security. Democrats are very proud of social security. Just to remind some of you who are here that - social security came from a very entrepreneurial approach to how - on how to meet the needs of the American people. It came from the tradition of Roosevelt which was constant, persistent, experimentation. Risk taking, being bold, and entrepreneurial.
Now, this is where I get lost - this new twist on the word entrepreneurial. (entrepreneurial: adj. 1. of or relating to an entrepreneur; 2. willing to take risks in order to make a profit.) Am I to understand that Roosevelt took risks in order to make a profit? Clearly not. He himself took no real monetary risk. Who took the risk? Evidently, American people did. Did they profit? Well, yes and no. Americans who had already profited had their profits appropriated and given to other Americans, who did profit from other Americans' profits. Very confusing, trying to explain redistribution of wealth in terms of the entrepreneurship, risk taking and experimentation of Roosevelt. My head spins.
Because it is a guaranteed benefit, it provides economic security and therefore independence for America's seniors, disabled and those unfortunate that - to have become widowed and - and orphans. So it's a very positive - with a very positive attitude - that we say we must subject all that we do to meet the needs of the American people, and to - anytime we're spending tax dollars - to the scrutiny that it needs so that it's always operating in the best possible way. In the 1980's President Reagan and Tip O'Neill came together to address the challenges faced by social security, and they came up with a bipartisan, sustainable approach that will make social security fine until probably - oh - 2040 or 50, depending on the numbers. And that's from [?] of 60 or 70 years.
Am I confused about how a plan can be sustainable, and still, well, be expected to collapse? No, and neither are you. We all know that the dictionary definition of terms like "sustainable", and the political definition (sustainable: adj. 1. Unlikely to implode in time to damage my political career, meaningless to my constituancy) are two very different things. Am I confused by the "economic security and therefore independence" thing? Yup.
Now the president is saying - he had been saying we have a crisis - I think he's toned down to saying its a problem - that he wants to address it before it becomes a crisis, and I accept that, and Democrats accept that characterization. We said to him all along we want to go to the table in a bipartisan way, to - no preconditions - except that we don't want to add to the deficit or harm the middle class or begin by cutting benefits or go to the table and consider all the options that are available to us. The president has said he wants to act in a bipartisan way, and yet he has invited the Republican senators to the whitehouse to talk about social security and the Republican house members. So we're waiting for the call to act in a bipartisan way with him. [At this moment, the TV lights go out. She says,] Do you think that could have been the call? (Laughter.) He acts in strange and mysterious ways, but uh - (More laughter. From a member of the press "it doesn't sound like the right message." ) In any event, Democrats are united - we stand ready to receive the president's plan. He has said three things. What I just said when we did meet with him in a joint leadership meeting [two shafts of light - apparently spotlights - play across the room. She says:] Uh-huh. A very important light. (Laughter.) In the joint leadership meeting he said it's not a crisis it's a problem that we should address before it becomes a crisis, and then he went out and said it was a crisis. Now he's back. Secondly that we should be - many of us suggested - Democrats and Republicans at the table that we should be dealing from the same set of numbers. Can't call it - deal with one set of numbers that prove a case and the rest of us dealing with another set of numbers. Let's stipulate to a set of facts so that we can go forward in a realistic way. And he said, give me a chance. Wait until you see my plan, before you go forward. So we're waiting for his plan, but - but the part of the plan - the first part of the plan that was leaked from the Whitehouse was - that forty percent would - call for a forty percent cut in benefits - for recip...beneficiaries. I don't think we should start there - so if that's their - their first proffer to those of us who are concerned about social security I don't think that's a good place to start. A good place to start is to say how do we honor our fathers and our mothers. How do we give them the independence that they deserve? Money that they put into the system and now being there. Again, when you have a guaranteed benefit, you as a young person or middle age person can be very entrepreneurial because you know at the end of the day you will at least have social security. And that, I think, contributes to the entrepreneurial spirit in our country for people to take more risks and be more successful. With that I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have...
Still confused? Me, too. But I think I'm beginning to understand. You do bold risk taking entrepreneurial experimenting on your own. And then, when your enterprise is bled white by over-legislation and redistribution of wealth (that would be the Rooseveltian governmental experimental entrepreneurship), well, don't you worry. You'll always, (always: adv. 1. beyond the day that Nancy Pelosi's retires to ample benefits paid for by you) always have Social Security.

I also understand that there will be no bipartisan discussion, call or no call. Social Security, broken or not, has been redefined as "entrepreneurial" and "independent" and good. (In line with the Ten Commandments, even. Remeber the honor our fathers and mothers thing?) The gauntlet and the verbal smokescreen have simultaneously hit the ground. Looking for productive discussion? Mmmm. Nice thought - but don't hold your breath.