The Republican Congressional Delegation’s Oddly Faulty Memory of 2004 — UPDATED

House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.

Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era, and Highlight Gridlock of Today, Michael D. Shear, New York Times, today.

Whoa.  Funny, but I too remember the weeks following the 2004 presidential election. Which immediately followed the 2004 presidential campaign.  Which I also remember; it wasn’t all that long ago.  

And I remember that during that campaign, Bush never mentioned his plan to privatize Social Security.  

Yes, that’s right.  Bush waited until immediately after the election to announce his intention to privatize Social Security–outraging not just Democrats but millions of Independents, some of whom had voted for him, and even some Republicans.  

The main focus of the 2004 presidential campaign was national security.  Privatization of Social Security was not an issue at all in 2004.  Not until after the campaign, that is, when Bush not only announced his plan but also then campaigned intensely for public support for it, to no avail.  The proposal quickly proved deeply unpopular.  And congressional Republicans began to run from it.  The Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress, did not even put it up for a vote, in either house, if I recall correctly.

So if Republicans think they remember that the tables were turned–a metaphor that refers to actual similarity, or at least some semblance of it–they might consider seeing a neurologist.  Or maybe just reading news accounts from the period between Bush’s announcement of his proposal and the death of that proposal early in 2005.  They also can search for reports of any mention–any suggestion at all–by Bush during the campaign that he was planning to propose the privatization of Social Security.  I wish them luck.

As for their claim to a mandate because they retained control of the House, the speciousness of this assertion has already been documented and discussed in the mainstream media, largely because a Washington Post reporter (I wish I could recall his name, but I can’t) meticulously researched the campaign results, congressional district by congressional district, and then did something that modern Republicans don’t: math.  Republicans lost, albeit narrowly, the aggregate popular vote in House elections nationwide.  They retained control of the House only because of extreme gerrymandering last year in some states, most notably in Pennsylvania and Texas, but in other states as well.  

The word “mandate” in this context leaves room for debate about what percentage of victory in the popular vote constitutes one.  But a victory in the popular is a prerequisite to that debate.  The Republicans don’t have the prerequisite, nor do they claim to have it; they simply misuse the word “mandate”.  Like so many other words.  

But at least it’s not false for them to note that they did retain control of the House.  What is baldly false, though, is their characterization of late 2004 and early 2005 as tables turned.  Unless, of course, there’s such a thing as a retroactive mandate for a policy that wasn’t disclosed during a campaign and is announced as a surprise only afterward.  Immediately afterward.

Which, now that I think about it, probably is what happened in 2004.  no, the public isn’t clairvoyant.  But we did know during the campaign that a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress in the current era will always want to privatize Social Security, and will waste no time (literally, in that case) in trying to do that when they hold the White House and majorities in both congressional houses.  We just forgot that, to our near-detriment–a mistake that, I trust, we the public won’t make again, however much Republican candidates insist otherwise during the campaign.  Because the Dem candidates will remind the public, during the campaign, of what happened after the election of 2004.  And of the current congressional Republicans’ claim in that New York Times article that a clear election victory is not a mandate on issues that were at the express and constant heart of a national campaign, because, after all, the opposition party doesn’t recognize as a mandate a vital policy proposal made only after the election that retroactively turned out to be all about that vital policy issue after all.  I mean, who knew?  Well, the Republicans did.

And now we do too, and it will be a prominent factor in campaigns to come.  The sheer trickery;  the attempt, in 2004 and now, to utterly undermine the very concept of democracy.  The current congressional Republicans’ express equating, as Shear reports, of a policy issue clearly at the heart of a campaign with a policy not even mentioned during the campaign.  It’s of a piece with the Romney campaign’s modus operandi of incessant, outright misrepresentations of fact.  And also of a piece with state and federal Republican legislative and executive-branch officeholders’ policy of delegating to lobbying groups the actual writing of legislation, including during lame-duck periods, enacting policies never proposed and, in some instances, expressly rejected by the officeholders, pre-election.  (Think: Michigan, Dec. 2012.)

But there’s also a separate issue of the messenger’s’–Shear’s–curious acceptance of the false equivalence of Bush’s and Congress’s handling of the Social Security privatization issue in late 2004 and early 2005 and resolution of the tax and spending issues of the fiscal cliff.  Shear mentions that Obama’s current approval rating in this week’s polls is his highest since shortly after bin Laden was killed.  He doesn’t mention that Obama’s approval rating has been above 50% throughout the post-election period, including the period before the Newtown shooting rampage, when the cliff talks were the news story, daily.  And that Bush’s approval rating plummeted once he announced his Social Security privatization plan.  And that the juxtaposition of the drop in Bush’s approval rating and that announce was not coincidence; the polling on that issue was awful for him.

We all are, by now, used to the news media’s acquiescence in the Republicans’ false-equivalency game. This Times article, by a reporter whose reporting is normally of high quality, makes me wonder whether there’s just is no limit to even the reporter-as-mindless-stenographer-for-fear-of-appearing-to-be-anti-Republican mindset at even the very highest level of the mainstream media.*

*This sentence had a large cut-and-paste error in it, and has now been corrected.

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UPDATE:  Well … in the comments to this post, reader CasualObserver wrote:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQAoKL7EBY

Watch at the 5 min mark you will find that the faulty memory is all yours.

To which AB regular contributor Bruce Webb responded:

Well I don’t relish being the skeleton at the feast here, but Bush made his intentions on SS crystal clear when he set up his CSSS (Commission to Strengthen Social Security) in 2001 with six specific guidelines. one of whic categorically ruled out Payroll tax solutions of the sort Dale and us put forth as the ‘NW Plan’ and another nandated that private accounts had to be part of the package.

CSSS rolled out its recommendations right on time, unfortunately for Bush that time was right after 9/11. Absent that, which the Bush Administration was not expecting at all, we could have expected some analogue of the 2005 Social Security Tour being rolled out in 2002. The Bush Administration apparently took the intention for the deed and after fighting out the mid-terms and the 2004 presidential elections almost solely on national security somehow got the idea that yhe time was ripe to push the ‘Bi-Partisan’ Model 2 CSSS Plan, though at first with the flimsy vover of the near identical Posen Plan. because Posen, like a full half of the CSSS was a Democrat.

Anyway by Nov 26th 2004 Bush could plausibly claim that his plans for Social Security were fully spelled out after a ‘bi-partisan’ process for the last three years and so were at least implicitly on the table during the 2004 campaign. perhaps counting on the fact that no one was paying attention. and he almost won that bet, the fond belief by Dem leaders that they shot down Model 2 is not supported by the chronology instead the SS Tour was stopped in its tracks by the blogger led ‘There is No Crisis’ movement (in which I had an informal role but which was led by Dave Johnson and some others).

So no there was little to no talk of Social Security privatization on the hustings, and unless you were predisposed to be a SS geek that “I have got capital” move would indeed come out of thin air. Me I set up a new Social Security blog within 48 hours (bruceweb.blogspot.com) and started lobbing SS Report tables at figures with abandon. Because for my sins I was already seven years into this SS thing. And as such knew what Bush was about.

For which I am deeply grateful, Bruce, since after I read CasualObserver’s comment and did watch the video clip–which shows presidential-debate moderator Bob Schieffer asking Bush about his proposal to allow people to use part of their Social Security taxes to invest in the stock market rather than have the money go to the U.S. Treasury–I was dismayed.  How could I, who was downright obsessed with the 2004 presidential campaign and its outcome, not recall that Bush had campaigned in 2004 on his plan, announced years earlier, to partially privatize Social Security?

The answer, it turns out, is that Bush didn’t campaign on that plan during the 2004 campaign.  Schieffer was asking him about what had transpired before 9/11, and his commission’s recommendations, released in 2002.  To his credit, Bush, unlike a certain Republican presidential candidate in 2012, didn’t deny that he had done and said what Schieffer said he had.  Nor did he flip-flop.  He answered, straightforwardly, that this was his intention, and made a brief argument for the policy.

But Bush himself did not raise the issue during the campaign, and certainly did not campaign on the issue; that answer to Schieffer’s question probably is the only time he mentioned it during that campaign, unless maybe some other reporter asked him about it at some other point.  And Republicans had held control of both houses of Congress throughout Bush’s term, yet neither Bush nor the congressional Republicans had attempted to enact this into law.  That, of course, is because it was a very unpopular proposal.  

So CasualObserver is right, and I was wrong, that Bush made clear at some point during the campaign that he wanted to propose a plan to partially privatize Social Security.  But CasualObserver is wrong in suggesting that Bush campaigned on this.  He did not; he said, once or perhaps twice, in answer to a question, that he planned to do this.  But there was little expectation that such a proposal, if actually presented as a bill in Congress, would go very far.  And it did not go very far, not, as the current Republican congressional delegation claims, because the Senate Dems threatened a filibuster, or whatever, but because the polls were consistently showing–to Republican members of Congress as well as to Dem ones–that there was strong, broad-based opposition to it among the public.  So strong, in fact, that Bush’s 2005 attempt to have this policy enacted played a role in the unexpected change of both houses of Congress to Dem control in the 2006 election.  This, even though there weren’t enough Republican members in either house in 2005 to push this through.

The 2004 election was almost entirely about national security–at a time when, polls showed, about half the public still believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and many still thought he had had weapons of mass destruction.  Virtually no one, Republican or Democrat, viewed the central issue in the campaign as anything else.

Suffice it to say that it is delusional–or maybe just a desperate political gimmick–for the current Repub crowd to claim an equivalence, in any substantive respect at all, between the 2005 Social Security privatization issue and the fiscal-policy controversies at issue in the current situation.

Including, not incidentally, that the Social Security privatization issue didn’t threaten to bring down the economy in 2005.

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