Frank Luntz stopped by and left a comment on my post yesterday about his Social Security memo. Here is my response, point by point: You would be much more effective protecting Social Security if you focus on stopping all the waste in Washington
December 30, 2010

Frank Luntz stopped by and left a comment on my post yesterday about his Social Security memo. Here is my response, point by point:

You would be much more effective protecting Social Security if you focus on stopping all the waste in Washington rather than complaining about my memos. You're all hyped up about my words when it's the policy that matters.

Indeed. Policy is all that matters. You argue for a harmful policy; that is, taking Social Security contributions and investing them privately, or forcing back Social Security Retirement Age to 70, or both. I view those ideas as extremely bad policy.

When Social Security was "reformed" in the Reagan years, Boomers were taken into consideration. Yet you continue to argue for a policy which double-slams them because it would layer on another cut to the one they've already taken. The only way you can sell this policy to the public is to foment fear. Hence, the argument that Social Security is "bankrupt" (it's not), and that people should control their contributions and be permitted to invest them in Wall Street investments.

One look at 401k performance over the past 4 years should be all the illustration anyone needs to know Wall Street is a dangerous place for small investors who rely upon their retirement savings to survive.

As to waste in Washington, on that point we agree. We only disagree on where money is being wasted. I could point to the incredibly duplicative "national security complex" as a complete waste of money. I could point to the two wars we put on the national credit card, too. One of those wars was fought under false pretenses while the other one was put on the back burner. Both carry immeasurable human and monetary prices which did not have to be paid.

There's a reason why Republicans won more seats in the House than in any election in decades and more local and state elections than at any time in 80 years! The reason? You.

Instead of yelling, listen. Instead of condemining the language, focus on the policy. I don't rant and rave. I pay attention to what people say, how they think, and what they want. It's a much more effective approach.

Republicans won more seats in the House because they had an efficient money machine and the anti-incumbent advantage. This isn't about me, or policy, or me trashing the way you twist the policy debate. They won because they had a stoked-up anger machine behind them pushing the narrative forward, and a whole lot of money to inject themselves into everyone's frontal lobe via television, radio and internet ads. It didn't hurt to have an entire 24/7 media machine reinforcing the message, either.

I'll give Republicans this: they understand the value of a consistent and simple message, even if it's not true. Democrats tend to go wonky and in different directions. Message discipline is not a liberal strong point. Yet.

I realize it makes you feel good to trash someone anonymously, but what have you really accomplished? Tonight I have spent 90 seconds responding to you all, and shortly I will spend two hours writing a memo that will reach millions of people and change thousands of minds.

And one final thought: there's a lot more that we all agree on than you realize. From genuinely helping those in need to fixing the education system to finding a fairer tax code, we're often on the same side. If you ever want help on these issues -- if you ever want to be constructive in your approach -- just let me know via this blog.

This is my name. I am not at all anonymous, so let's just leave that behind. As to our commenters here on C&L, they run the gamut. There's nothing wrong with speaking anonymously, and minimizing their arguments because they aren't putting their name on them is just wrong. But for now, let's deal with your final point, which is your memos, your framing, and why it matters.

My post yesterday highlighted something people need to address; namely, that mainstream media sources take your frames and echo them. You know this as well as I do: Say something often enough and it becomes fact.

You craft messages to reach into people's gut and trigger fear where none need exist. When everyone from the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and the New York Times simultaneously repeat the very same talking points, it's important to point out the absence of fact in their claims and the true source of their origin.

Since we can't rely upon traditional journalists to actually point it out (particularly in the context of a wonky policy debate), the only ones left are those of us who bother to watch and match up the themes with the one who crafted them, and that person is you.

Until people realize that they're being sold a PR campaign instead of facts, I'm going to continue to watch and match up what the 'pundits' say with what you write, and point out the inaccuracies wherever I can.

Attacking Social Security would be a complete loser politically if people actually understood the facts instead of the spin. It is fact that Social Security has made seniors more secure in their retirement and less reliant upon their children. It is fact that Social Security has actually contributed to the United States' economic health more than any other program, with the possible exception of Medicare.

It is also fact that Medicare is currently structured in a way to be very costly, and really should be the focus of concern in any budget debate. By bundling Medicare with Social Security you're able to take aim at the solid, solvent program without unnecessarily panicking seniors who both love and rely upon Medicare in their old age.

In any policy debate, Medicare should be the target. You've made Social Security the red herring because they are tied together. Social Security recipients are Medicare-eligible recipients. If you're serious about debating policy, then you also must acknowledge that the best way to resolve Medicare's issues is to open it up to people who are not aged in order to counter the adverse selection driving costs right now. Every actuary on the planet understands that costs and unfunded liabilities skyrocket with age, which is why insurance pools are not age-banded, but include younger, healthier populations to mitigate risk.

Hence, the push for a "public option", or what most single payer advocates would call "Medicare for All." Such a plan would mitigate costs now and in the future because there would always be a fresh group of younger, healthier participants to offset costs for the elderly and more costly participants.

This would bring down the national per-capita cost of health care along with the unfunded liabilities for health care going into the future. Yet, you crafted a memo which not only framed a public option as something evil and ugly, but managed to convince seniors their Medicare was at risk! There is only one master served by such a message, and it was not the people. It was insurers, who are now so entrenched in profit-taking from health insurance they have no intention of surrendering it.

This is but one example. There are many others. Don't try to minimize the impact of what you do. You do it quite well, obviously, but taking complex policy issues and boiling them down to misleading, fearmongering talking points is not any kind of policy discussion. It's spin.

So my challenge to you is this: Come back and talk policy with me. Let's take on Medicare and Social Security, straight up and directly. Let's stop twisting around the message and get to the heart of the policy. Rather than attacking me for pointing out the obvious echo chamber around your memos, try a direct discussion of why you think your message is true, and why you believe the policies are valid. Go beyond the usual libertarian bent about evil government versus collective good, and get into the details.

I'll be here.

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