Monday, March 14, 2005

Casting Call

The ABC/Washington Post poll released today shows "barely a third of the public approves of the way President Bush is dealing with Social Security." Along with two other news articles, this helps shed light on why the visit of President Bush to Pensacola has not yet been confirmed, was confirmed only late this afternoon:
"A presidential visit is planned, the third to this area in eight months time. President George W. Bush, is planning a trip to Pensacola on Friday. Congressman Jeff Miller's Office has confirmed the travel plans. * * * The time and place of Friday's visit has not yet been announced."
You have to figure the White House is busy vetting local folk for super-tough roles in the coming political drama, "Let's All Trust Wall Street With Our Social Security."

In Sunday's Washington Post, staff writers Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker describe the way the White House elaborately screens and rehearses in advance the potential questioners Bush will call on.
"These meticulously staged 'conversations on Social Security,' as they are called, replicate a strategy that Bush used to great effect on the campaign trail. * * * First [the White house] picks a state in which generally it can pressure a lawmaker or two, and then it lines up panelists who will sing the praises of the president's plan. Finally, it loads the audience with Republicans and other supporters."
Once they have the cast, White House handymen decide who the president will call on in advance and then put them through rehearsals to teach them how to act like spontaneous members of the general public.

Take the experience of Mark Darr from Benton, Arkansas -- who supports privatizing Social Security -- and his mother (who does not):
"To help make its case, the White House recruits people such as Mark Darr ... who joined the president on stage at a forum in Little Rock last month. In a subsequent interview, Darr said he believes he was chosen because he went to college with one son of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and provided insurance for another.

After the governor's office called, Darr said, he began receiving one call after another from the White House, quizzing him on his thoughts on Social Security and his family history, just as they did all the other candidates. 'I'm sure they wanted to . . . make sure they weren't going to embarrass the president,' Darr said.

Not so his mother. At first when he mentioned that she receives Social Security, he said, White House aides seemed eager to add her to the panel. Then they called her. 'She wasn't really for the private accounts, so they didn't decide to use her,' Darr said.

The night before the event, the chosen participants gathered for a rehearsal in the hall in which the president would appear the next day. An official dispatched by the White House played the president and asked questions. 'We ran through it five times before the president got there,' Darr said."
Anyone want to bet on which familiar face from the beach is lining up for a screen test?

The second article comes from a Southwest Florida newspaper. It seems the president initially planned to stage his next Florida 'town hall' visit on Social Security in Sarasota, not Pensascola. But the Herald Tribune reports today that the president's "first visit to Sarasota in more than three years was nixed just hours after it was announced." The change was attributed to unspecified "scheduling problems," according to a Bush supporter.

The 'scheduling' problem may be that it's taking longer than usual to find any Republican politician who isn't running away from the president's plan to privatize Social Security. Even ubber-loyalist Katharine R. Harris (R-Fla.) is claiming she was "not involved in the planning process" for the abortive Sarasota meeting.

Harris, of course, is the former state elections supervisor who became a polarizing figure in the drawn-out 2000 presidential election contest. She represents a congressional district with the second-highest concentration in the nation of people over 65 years old, according to the Sarasota paper. Although many consider her the president's lap dog, to date she has "stopped short of saying the president can count on her vote," writes reporter Jeremy Wallace.

So, one is tempted to conclude that in addition to a few rich Republican donors who plausibly can be trained to act like ordinary folk, the hunt is on for a congressman more reliable than Harris when it come to supporting privatization of Social Security.

First District congressman Jeff Miller surely seems like he would be a reliable cast member. The nonpartisan "On The Issues" web site says Miller rates a low 20% on senior issues as determined by the Alliance for Retired Americans. And he showered truly fulsome praise on the president's stated intention to privatize Social Security after the state of the union speech.

But Mr. Miller's official statement on the issue now waffles a bit. From his congressional web site we learn that he doesn't want to cut benefits "to the current and soon-to-be retirees," he's against raising taxes, he wants a "safety net for all workers," and he thinks "personal accounts must be constrained within safe parameters so people do not recklessly lose money."

Still, careful readers will note that Miller's statement on the issue only precludes people from losing money. It doesn't expressly preclude a privatized plan that allows your retirement money to be lost by the recklessness of Wall Street investment firms -- say, in some future Enron or Worldcom or HealthSouth scandal.

So, he may be reliable after all.

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