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The Awfulness of Alan Simpson

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Over at the United Steelworkers blog, Dean Baker unloads on Alan Simpson and the idea that Simpson knows anything useful about Social Security:

Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson has been a holy terror ever since he was appointed by President Obama to co-chair his deficit commission last year. With equal fervor he has attacked both his opponents and the basic facts surrounding the budget in general and Social Security in particular.

Ordinarily, either his rudeness or his lack of understanding of the facts on the issues where he is supposed to be an expert would be sufficient to have him exiled from the public limelight. Yet, because his views coincide with the editorial positions at elite news outlets like the Washington Post, his credibility as a spokesperson on the budget and Social Security is never tarnished.

The bill of particulars against Senator Simpson is getting quite lengthy at this point. In the rudeness category, Mr. Simpson sent a late-night e-mail to the head of a major national women’s organization implying that she was too dumb to read a simple graph. More recently he directed an obscene gesture towards the AARP. This goes along with numerous insults directed against reporters in interviews and a tirade about Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog.

One can debate how seriously these actions should be viewed. But the contrast with Van Jones, an advisor on environmental issues to President Obama, is striking. Most Washington insider types felt that Jones had to be quickly sent packing after a single off-color remark about Republicans was made public.

I last remember Simpson completely losing his composure on Bill Maher’s show 7 or 8 years ago. And then all of as sudden he is Washington’s darling despite (or because) of his fuzzy understanding of economics and his shocking realization that there are a lot of older people in the United States. The Beltway at its finest!

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  • Joshua

    Or how about, a couple weeks ago, when Alan Simpson proved that he has never looked at an actuarial table or spoken to an actuary in his entire life?

    Yet somehow he managed to discuss this stuff for an entire year with other, equally serious members of the DC establishment, and they never once thought to call up anyone who knows anything. And it took a full year for reporters to stop fawning over his seriousness and ask him a real question about his plan.

    We are, as they say, well and truly fucked.

  • Are there any prominent republicans who are merely shameless hacks toeing the party line and not pig ignorant as well? That is, is there anyone left with any sort of modest expertise about anything? Is Paul Ryan merely lying and not also hugely stupid?

    • Malaclypse

      Richard Lugar is not pig-ignorant, at least on arms control.

      • timb

        As a Hoosier who writes him, let me say that’s about it. He’s so afraid of the Tea party right now, he’d probably vote to denounce Richard Lugar

        • astonishingly dumb hv

          I used to love Lugar.

          I debated in h.s. and college, and read many pieces of evidence on foreign policy from him, and they made a heckuva lot of sense.

      • catclub

        And note that Jon Kyl (who knew less than nothing) was made the GOP point man on the Arms Treaty negotiation in the Senate due to that fact.

    • Oscar Leroy

      “Are there any prominent republicans who…”

      Well, it was a Democrat who appointed Simpson to the deficit reduction committee. And he had to know what/who he was getting.

      • Oscar, that’s orthogonal to my question. Not that it’s a bad question to ask why Obama appoint a rank incompetent, but that’s a separate issue. (Of course, if there are no non-ignorant, non-crazy folks….and ignorant might be better than crazy.)

        I’m genuinely curious! Lugar seems, prima facie, to be a reasonable example. I tend to think that Boehner isn’t a policy guy but knows that a lot of what he’s advocating (debt ceiling brinksmanship) is nuts.

  • Ordinarily, either his rudeness or his lack of understanding of the facts on the issues where he is supposed to be an expert would be sufficient to have him exiled from the public limelight.

    Oh riiiiiiiight.

  • c u n d gulag

    Geez, what ever happened to him?

    He and his crony were pretty funny up in the balcony on “The Muppet Show.”

    But as a solo act, he’s TERRIBLE!!!

    Who want to watch a cantankerous, mean old muppet?

  • BJN

    Link returns a 404.

    You know Erik, we really want to keep you on here at LGM, but with Indonesian link aggregators coming in a such lower cost…

    • Oddly, they seem to have taken the post down. Huh.

  • Alan in SF

    Either Obama had no idea what an idiot he was appointing, or, as has proven to be the case in every other “is this the result Obama wanted, or is he politically inept?” controversy, this is the result Obama wanted.

    To read Balloon Juice and the other O-bot blogs, you’d think the most accountable President ever hasn’t been responsible for a single thing that happened during his administration.

    • Holden Pattern

      Shhhh… you’re begging for a smackdown from our resident Dem apologist.

    • “this is the result Obama wanted”

      Prove it. And no, consulting with the strawman version of Obama that only lives inside your head doesn’t count.

      I know, the strawman Obama in your head is horrible! I also know that there’s a part of your brain that filters out anything that might challenge your precious little worldview. When it’s reality versus your self-serving beliefs, the self-serving beliefs ALWAYS win.

      Either Alan in SF had no idea what an idiot he was appointing, or, as has proven to be the case in every other “is this the result Alan in SF wanted, or is he intellectually inept?” controversy, this is the result Alan in SF wanted.

      • You know what, I apologize. “Obot” isn’t just a lazy dogwhistle.

        Calling your opponents names like “morally and mentally bankrupt fucknuggets” in order to preclude any factual discussion is perfectly appropriate for liberals to engage in when they don’t feel like making substantial arguments, because Bradley Manning chattering class useful idiot raaaaacist take hostages foo faw fah Black Reagan worse than Bush!

        It might be inappropriate when conservatives use derogatory terms like “Obongo”, “Hopey”, etc. but when liberals use terms like “Ojingo” and “Obot” in a sort of sense-free word jazz to vilify anyone who has a more nuanced view of the president than they do, that’s perfectly mature and appropriate because we’re so much smarter and better than those racist evil right-wing idiots who do the same thing.

        • DocAmazing

          All right, how about this: either President Obama wants to push through Social Security cuts and appointed Alan Simpson to provide cover, or he fucked up hugely and predictably by giving the nod to a washed-up, disgraced former legislator.

          Any further tantrums?

          • chris

            …or he knew the commission couldn’t possibly produce a useful plan regardless of who was on it, but wanted to make a show of bipartisanship because some voters like that sort of thing. Of course the other side wouldn’t play along, so you can’t get any genuine bipartisanship, but you can at least look like you tried.

            Honestly, who would you have appointed instead, and would you expect any different result other than fewer rapper-name-mangling soundbites? Why *not* put Simpson on an obviously useless body which was only created as a sham? How awful can Simpson really be if the whole enterprise was doomed to irrelevance from the outset?

            • Malaclypse

              Honestly, who would you have appointed instead…

              This guy.

            • Jay B.

              So…You’re going with “empty gesture”, chris? That’s inspiring leadership, a stupid kabuki stunt with a suit like Erksine Bowles representing “the left” and a respected asshole representing the right.

              Voters still don’t give a shit, the Democrats are, of course, mixing their messaging (Good: Pelosi “We have a plan, it’s called Medicare”, Bad: “Medicare is on the table”) and the Republicans can say anything they want about SS and Medicare because of the deficit the President keeps on worrying about.

              Let’s have some more useless commissions! For the good of the country!

              • astonishingly dumb hv

                the Democrats are, of course, mixing their messaging

                I agree with most of your comment, but want to point out that mixed messages is a feature, not a bug. Envying the Republican uniformity is silly; the price tag of fascism and intolerance is too high.

                As long as liberals value diversity and tolerance, reasonable persons should expect mixed messaging.

                • Jay B.

                  Sure diversity of thought and debate are great and are wonderful liberal values. Now, let’s talk about concrete politics and how to stop the Republicans from letting granny die on an ice floe while shoveling her health care money to Rick Scott’s next yacht.

                  There’s vast chasm between appreciating heterodoxy in the Democratic POV and needing a coherent POV as befits a semi-functional political party.

                  I mean, there has to be something the Democrats stand for, right? Otherwise, what’s the point?

                • Malaclypse

                  I mean, there has to be something the Democrats stand for, right?

                  Does “splitting the difference” count as a principle?

                  I didn’t think so either.

                • Who’s putting Medicare on the table?

                • astonishingly dumb hv

                  Jay B. — Great reply and very salient points.

                  I guess my stance is that, in general, I support heterodoxy; but I am happy to collapse that when a coherent POV as a semi-functional party is needed.

                  That puts us at trying to discuss the burdens of when that might apply. I rate those burdens quite highly, because I like tolerance and diversity, a lot. A heterodox organization agrees on less; but the things they do agree on are much more robust.

                  How does that play out in the concrete case? I am actually comfortable with the idea that some random person with a (D) behind their name says that “Medicare is on the table.”

                  Let that person go through Ms. Pelosi! (I don’t mean this in a snarky way; I mean this in an admiring way.)

              • Anonymous

                Exactly how much time and effort do you think creating and then ignoring the commission took- 30 minutes an hour?

            • Of course the other side wouldn’t play along, so you can’t get any genuine bipartisanship, but you can at least look like you tried.

              Those bipartisan panels on Social Security sure do bring in the votes.

            • Alan in SF

              Actually, the plan shows every sign of continuing life as the basis for a “grand bargain,” the “reasonable” alternative to the Ryan plan.

        • Malaclypse

          Calling your opponents names like “morally and mentally bankrupt fucknuggets” in order to preclude any factual discussion is perfectly appropriate for liberals to engage in when they don’t feel like making substantial arguments

          Quotation marks mean something other than what I think that you think they mean.

          And was anybody anywhere surprised at the result of asking the predictably horrid Alan Simpson a question? Hell, if you asked him who would win the Stanley Cup, he’d tell you that, whatever team won, they clearly need their Social Security cut. Social Security cuts are his answer to every question.

          Q: What is your favorite color?
          A: Cut Social Security, because no matter what the facts are, it is always going to be in the red.

          Q: In 1492, Columbus ___
          A: sailed the ocean blue
          b: began 500 years of oppression
          c: should have taken a principled stand against Social Security.

          • rea

            Quotation marks mean something other than what I think that you think they mean.

            The last time someone said something like that around here, before you know it, he was announcing that he was aware of all internet traditions . . .

            :)

        • astonishingly dumb hv

          You know what, I apologize.

          I am not sure that you do.

          Apology tentatively rejected, pending future developments.

  • lornix

    For those having difficulty – you can find what I presume is Baker’s full column here (at CEPR) or here (on Truthout).

  • Alan in SF

    when liberals use terms like “Ojingo” and “Obot” in a sort of sense-free word jazz to vilify anyone who has a more nuanced view of the president than they do,

    If by “more nuanced” you mean “Obama is the most effective President ever, and he’s not responsible for any outcome his administration produces,” then yes. That’s pretty nuanced, I have to admit.

  • Simpson is a good example of Senate comity gone nuts. He was always a right wing wackjob– he was, after all, a United States Senator from Wyoming– but he was also regarded as a personable colleague, and was frequently praised for his “centrist” views by the sorts of people that mistake affability with political moderation– and political moderation for a valuable quality. (It would be fun to see how frequently the late David Broder used Simpson as a source, or as an example.) Obama seems to think that the legislative process is where policy leadership should originate, and as a product of the Senate naturally he’d consider a tool like Simpson as exactly the sort of wise elder to turn to on a matter like this, actual expertise be damned. Probably Biden suggested him– I don’t think Simpson was still in the Senate when Obama was. (In my mind’s ear I can hear Rahm shouting, “No fucking way!”)

    You’d think that he’d have learned after the experience of sausage manufacture that was health care reform, but I guess not.

    • witless chum

      Simpson is personable as hell, socially liberal for a US senator from Wymoing and able to charm NPR hosts.

    • Ed Marshall

      It’s been sort of lost in the noise that Simpson was one of six members of a committee that were executive nominees. Simpson was joined by Bowles, Andy Stern(big bad Labor thug on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard), Alice Rivlin, Ann Fudge, and David Cote. The other members were three each of Senate and House Republicans and Democrats.

      What was supposed to happen was that this panel would be empowered to put forward it’s final report without alteration to the House and Senate for an up or down vote. The legislation to make this happen was shot down because the Republicans on the commission went back on a promise to vote for it.

      I guess no one clued them in that the whole thing was a scheme to gut the elderly. Everyone was saved from the cat food commission by the Republicans. That or people get on the internet and act paranoid and bullshit about things that they don’t really know much about, but if it makes a narrative where someone is secretly betraying The True Left it *feels* right!

      • DocAmazing

        So tell me about Andy Stern, please. This would be the same Andy Stern that unilaterally accepted cuts in benefits for healthcare workers in California? This would be Andy Stern who is much loved by the hospital owners for having gotten in the way of the California Nurses Association?

        Better “leftists”, please.

        • Ed Marshall

          Well, he scares Glenn Beck anyway. Who do you want on a committee tasked with deficit reduction? I think the gist is “I don’t give a shit about the topic”, and I sort of agree that it is the wrong time to give a shit.

          I guess you could staff up a table full of people to propose to the legislature that the way forward on deficit reduction is to seize the commanding heights of capitalism and liquidate the bourgeois. I swear if that *did* happen, some portion of the people who whine all day on blogs would find some loophole in it where it was really just some crypto-capitalist bailout and some argument would crystalize that a better leftist would have swept the state away altogether and reformed everything as syndicalist soviets.

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