A Less Than Magnificent Obsession

We wrote here, here, here, and here about Robert Greenwald, a failed Hollywood director who, after being responsible for one of the biggest bombs in show business history, retreated to making paid propaganda videos on behalf of far-left causes. Currently, Greenwald is working on a series called “Koch Brothers Exposed.” These videos try to blame everything under the sun on Charles and David Koch.
The latest in Greenwald’s series is on Social Security. It consists mostly of an interview with Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, and it points out that think tanks that have received funding from the Koch brothers (among many others) have also produced papers on potential reforms to the Social Security system. This is not what most of us would consider hard-hitting journalism, but Greenwald and Sanders try to convey the impression that they are onto something:

The theme of the video is that the Kochs are trying to destroy Social Security on behalf of “corporate interests.” But the viewer is left scratching his head: what “corporate interests” are at stake in the debate over the best means to preserve Social Security? Greenwald’s video tries to demonize proposals to extend the retirement age–more about that in a moment–but does it make any difference to the Kochs’ company, Koch Enterprises, whether the retirement age is 65 or 68? I can’t imagine why it would. Likewise, the brothers themselves are both billionaires. Whether Social Security is or is not reformed makes zero difference to them personally.
So Greenwald’s video is an extreme example of a phenomenon we see constantly on the left. Liberals never want to admit that there are legitimate, good-faith disagreements about issues of public policy. Instead, anyone who disagrees with them is alleged to be a tool of some unexplained “corporate interest,” or a racist, or whatever. Anything to avoid rational discussion of a political issue.
Beyond that, Greenwald’s video, like the others in the series, is packed with howlers. Sanders claims that “Social Security is not going broke. Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus.” This is sheer lunacy: Social Security taxes may have exceeded payouts by some such number over the life of the program, but that money is long gone. It has been spent by the federal government. The “$2.6 trillion” that remains is in the form of IOUs from the government to itself. There is not a single marketable security in the so-called Social Security Trust Fund, and the program is indeed going broke–absent significant reforms, such as those proposed by the think tanks featured in Greenwald’s video–since it is now in the red and is projected to incur larger and larger deficits as time goes by.
Greenwald and Sanders try to portray proposals to raise the age at which an employee becomes eligible for Social Security as the sinister fruit of a right-wing conspiracy. In fact, it is mere common sense: life expectancy has risen dramatically since the 1930s, and it is fantasy to expect an ever-dwindling percentage of workers to support larger and larger cohorts of retirees for ever-longer periods of time.
Far from emanating from an imaginary Koch conspiracy, proposals to raise the age of Social Security eligibility have been a bipartisan staple of reform proposals for decades. In fact, the retirement age was raised, prospectively, in 1983 from 65 to 67. Howard Dean, who is almost as far left as Bernie Sanders, has advocated raising the retirement age. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission, which was appointed by President Obama, recommended increasing the age of eligibility. And members of both parties, including, for example, former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, continue to contemplate increases in the age of eligibility as an important component of Social Security reform.
So Greenwald’s suggestion that Social Security reform is somehow a diabolical project of the Koch brothers is absurd. The silliness continues when Greenwald shows photos of Republicans like Paul Ryan and John Boehner who have advocated Social Security reform–but no Democrats who have taken the same or similar positions–next to amounts of “Koch campaign contributions,” as though this were evidence that the Koch brothers (actually, the Koch Industries PAC) were somehow driving these individuals’ positions on entitlement reform.
For John Boehner, Greenwald shows a grand total “Koch contribution” of $30,000. Given that Boehner has raised almost $29 million during his career in the House, that amount is risibly small–one tenth of one percent. There has not been a single election cycle in which the Koch Industries PAC, or the Koch brothers individually, have ranked among Boehner’s top twenty donors. And the $30,000 total cited by Greenwald is nowhere near what Boehner has gotten from the National Beer Wholesalers Association. So why isn’t Social Security reform a conspiracy run by a shady cabal of beer distributors?
Likewise with Paul Ryan: the Koch Industries PAC is, at least, on his list of contributors–this time, it represents a whopping four-tenths of one percent of Ryan’s campaign financing–but the PAC has again given less than the beer wholesalers, and barely more than the Carpenters & Joiners Union. So what is the basis for finding some unique connection between the Koch brothers and Paul Ryan’s views on entitlement reform?
It is easy to make fun of products as shoddy and dishonest as Greenwald’s videos, but deeper questions linger. First, as to Greenwald, why has he dedicated himself to producing anti-Koch propaganda? Who is paying him, and who chose the Kochs as a political target? It is noteworthy that Greenwald’s current video tries to trace an entirely fictitious connection between the Kochs’ “corporate interests” and Social Security reform, while his most recent prior video attributed a pipeline project to the Koch brothers, when in fact they have nothing to do with it, and its completion will, if anything, harm their company economically. So someone has obviously made a decision to fund irrational attacks on the Koch brothers, as part of a political strategy. Who?
And, as to the Left: why has it abandoned reasoned argument in favor of propaganda and demonization? Are its arguments so weak that it is no longer willing even to make them?

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