Billionaire Pete Peterson has spent a lot of money trying to convince people that Social Security is a serious threat to the country's finances. And it's a message that the corporate media love to echo. So when Peterson's group decided to hold "town hall" meetings to promote fiscal austerity by cutting Social Security and Medicare, one would have guessed that the media would give it some attention.
But a funny thing happened this weekend at these "America Speaks" events. Members of the public, after being given what Roger Hickey calls "misleading background information about the federal deficit and economic options to achieve fiscal 'balance' and future prosperity," got a chance to weigh in on what they thought the most prudent course of action might be. As Thomas Frank points out in the Wall Street Journal today (6/30/10; subscription required), the results were likely a huge disappointment to Peterson:
The event took place as scheduled last Saturday, with thousands of citizens meeting in different cities. They duly absorbed a booklet alerting them to the danger of deficits. They deliberated. And then something funny happened on the way to the consensus.
According to a preliminary compilation of results, participants supported "an extra 5 percent tax" on incomes of greater than $1 million per year (by 68 percent) and an increase in the corporate income tax rate (59 percent). They thought a "carbon tax" was a good idea (64 percent) as well as a "securities transactions tax" (61 percent). On Social Security, austerity was nowhere in sight as 85 percent backed raising the limit on taxable income, and only a miserable 27 percent thought that we should "create personal savings accounts." Majorities favored cutting defense spending and expressed support for further recovery measures even if they increase the deficit.
Raising taxes on the wealthy, a carbon tax, cutting military spending--who ARE these people? It sounds a political agenda that most pundits would tell you is politically impossible. (It also happens to be what a lot of people want, but never mind that.)
Given the media's general enthusiasm for Peterson's propaganda on austerity and Social Security, it's striking how little coverage these town halls have received. But it's hard not to conclude that the public rejection of the media's conventional wisdom is the explanation. A few weeks ago, Washington Post columnist David Broder (5/2/10) lamented the fact that Peterson was apparently not having as much impact on the political discussion as the Tea Party movement: "Peterson's foundation could do the country a favor by uncovering a credible populist Republican who will buck his party's orthodoxy and take that message of fiscal responsibility to the country."
Instead, Peterson's people are trying to spread their message--but the public apparently wants something else entirely.
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This story was published on July 3, 2010.