Nothing really newsworthy took place. He only re-stated the same positions he’d been talking about for months on end. The only real news was means-testing, which is not the kind of thing that’s going to make most people go ‘hooray!’
This press conference was a waste of broadcast television time, really. It should’ve been paid for as a political ad, because that’s what it was: Bush’s free advertising.
Bush has only called eleven press conferences during his presidency. Compare that with 30 and 70 in the last two presidency. Jay Rosen has some theories as to why this is the case.
From The Nation:
He also advocated–in the only substantial news of the evening–means-testing cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits, raising the prospect of real cuts for a majority of future beneficiaries. He tried to sugarcoat this hard-to-swallow news two way. First, he vowed that future recipients will receive benefits equal or greater to those being handed out today. But that was spin, for this carefully constructed explanation ignored the need to boost benefits to keep pace with inflation. Equal benefits would mean reduced benefits in real terms. Second, he suggested those who opt for a private account would end up making enough to compensate for the cuts, but polls show that a majority of Americans do not buy this argument. It may make policy sense–though not political sense–to turn Social Security into an outright welfare program: benefits for those who need them, less or none for the well-off. But Bush’s vague proposal won’t sell on Capital Hill or beyond.
Social Security is difficult to change, because the ones that care about it are the ones that don’t want anything to change until after they’re dead. I don’t really understand why Bush is trying to take this on anyway — as I said earlier, it seems to me that he simply picked the biggest, most intractable problem he could find and decided to pounce on it. But he didn’t really look before he leapt. It’s hard for people to look forward to 2040, which is when Bush predicts that the current program will go bankrupt. In public discourse, the simpler argument usually wins. In the past Bush has had the simpler arguments. For example: the terrorists have attacked us, so we must attack the terrorists. People are willing to accept that, and the Democrats cries that it’s more complicated than that largely went ignored.
But it’s harder to distill this into sound-bites, especially when a large portion of the voters are mortally afraid that their checks are going to get taken away. Bush’s reassurances seem hollow.
From a political stand-point, this means testing is also very trouble-some. He’s now basically proposing cutting the benefits of the wealthy and middle-class. That’s his base; that’s where he gets his money. Other Republicans are less than thrilled.
Ultra-conservative Sam Brownback, from my home state of Kansas, has said that he’s “not sure that’s the way we want to go.” And of course the Democrats are not suddenly going to start cheering Bush on for helping the poor.
Here’s a chart from Political Animal that shows the effect of Bush’s proposal on income replacement:
That doesn’t look like the kind of thing that Republicans normally support.
Cross-posted to Leoniceno’s Corner