Journalists in the service of Pete Peterson

Press Criticism | By Kevin C. Brown |

Place your cursor over highlighted text to see observations and critique.


Jon Meacham

Interviewing Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget (2010):

“Based on your experience in the last 18 months or so, do you believe that our political system as currently constructed…can make the kinds of fundamental reforms that I know you support and a lot of the folks here do? Is it a likely scenario that the political will can be mustered without a precipitating crisis?”

“Do you think…on the crisis of ‘08 and ‘09 — it seems to me as a layman that that did not produce the kind of sense of ‘we need to put our house in order, we need to talk more about sacrifice, we need to look at the long-term,’ and my personal analysis is the reason is unemployment did not reach a high enough rate. That tragically more people are going to have to be out of work before the sense of crisis comes together in order to force long-term reform. Do you agree with that?”

One could almost miss it, but “fundamental reforms” and “political will can be mustered” are not neutral terms. As becomes clear in the next excerpt, Meacham himself believes that cutting spending — which could be described as a radical assault on the idea that prosperity should be spread to and among more Americans — is the courageous and necessary way to go.
People were not sufficiently jolted out of their complacency to do the right thing.
He feels bad about it, people can’t seem to grasp that reducing entitlements is necessary and inevitable if we are to survive. But ultimately they will be forced to.


Bob Schieffer

Interviewing former President Bill Clinton (2010):

“You set up a commission on entitlement reform, it was very successful in outlining how serious the problems were, but it didn’t come up with solutions, you weren’t able to get them. What advice would you give to Erskine Bowles and to Alan Simpson as they start out on this commission?”

“President Obama suggested yesterday that he will follow the recommendations of this panel [Bowles-Simpson]. You think he can keep that promise?”

“You, better than anyone, will remember the impact of Ross Perot on American politics, and say what you might, he did make people aware of the fiscal crisis that this country faced. I’ve always wondered: was the fact that Ross Perot was in that race, did that cause you to focus more on fiscal responsibility? Or what was his impact? I’m wondering, I mean do we need another Ross Perot here these days?”

Schieffer is frustrated that needed reforms — of the Peterson variety — haven’t been able to be made.
Will we finally be able to get the job done?
Perot had foresight. Do we need a wise man like that again?


Lesley Stahl

Interviewing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or Bowles-Simpson commission (2010):

“If I asked you, each of you, to right now to tell the American people how dire the situation is in your opinion, what would you say?”

In answering, Alan Simpson said that “people know something is terribly, terribly wrong,” to which Stahl replied, “but there are ‘no new taxes’ organizations; there are ‘don’t touch my Social Security’ organizations.”

“What about the baby boom wave coming into Social Security and Medicare — that has to be a tsunami that’s going to hit all of us?”

“I assume you are both pretty optimistic about this. But on day one, which was yesterday, your first meeting, a Republican group held a big news conference and said you were a Trojan horse for a value-added tax commission, and liberals had another news conference and said we want you — we need to raise spending on infrastructure and education…so it sounds like both sides have shot off their cannons, and then you are going to go inside and have to already deal with something that they have put on the table.”

It simply wouldn’t occur to Stahl or to many of her colleagues that the “debt crisis” either: (a) wasn’t a crisis; or (b) was surpassed by other crises, like crises of inadequate revenue or an out-of-control financial system. Thus, inquiries that question the Bowles-Simpson premise are generally not asked.
Simpson, Stahl thinks, is overly optimistic: people can’t seem to get over the selfish addiction to Social Security benefits.
Having drunk deeply of Peterson Kool-Aid, Stahl cannot recognize that Social Security is solvent and can be made more robust without benefits cuts, and cannot imagine that it makes sense that Medicare spending is growing as the nation ages (and thus has to be paid for).
A combination of horse-race questioning (how are you going to win), the centrists-must-be-right-because-there’s-opposition-from-both-sides pose, and a failure to consider that perhaps Bowles-Simpson (and Peterson) fail to account for additional spending needs (especially in view of the proposal to artificially cap spending as a percentage of GDP).


George Stephanopoulos

Moderating a panel discussion on the “everyday impacts of rising debt and the benefits of fiscal reform,” featuring Alan Simpson; Jay S. Fishman, chairman and CEO of Travelers Companies; Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia; and Carmen Reinhart, fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics (2012):

To Alan Simpson:
“When you get pushback what do you do? And what are the two or three numbers, figures, arguments that seem to make people understand everyone is going to have to contribute to this?”

You and I already understand the necessity; can we explain so even the American people get it?

To Jay Fishman:
“How much time — and everybody’s been waiting for this — how much time are the bond markets going to give our federal government to address this?”

Stephanopoulos appears not to understand the oddity of having the federal government subservient to the wishes of “bond markets”; instead, the threat of market objection is used to hype the idea that debt is a ticking time bomb.

To Michael Nutter:
“Mayor Nutter, you talked about the importance of making sure that everyone took a cut, that you took cuts as well, but flip the question around. I would think one of the advantages when it works on the local level is that people can actually make the direct connection between the sacrifice they’re making, the tax they are paying, the cutback they have had to endure, and the benefit they are seeing.  What were the benefits that people saw sort of immediately or at least over a reasonable period of time?”

No challenge to Mayor Nutter as to the downside of everyone taking a cut. Alternative: Didn’t cuts in city government make Philadelphia residents worse off?
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