Wall Street Group Behind Poll Supporting Social Security Cuts

Richard Eskow

The anti-Social Security propagandists should’ve thought this one through a little more carefully: On the same day that Goldman Sach’s CEO issued his “balanced” demand for Social Security and Medicare cuts, the Wall Street-funded group called “Third Way” published the results of a poll which precisely reflected the wishes of Goldman Sach’s CEO.

Coincidence? We report, you decide.

It certainly doesn’t look good when the poll in question contains misleading questions, is deceptively presented, and includes sentences like “Questions 50 to 55 held for future release.” Any remaining shred of credibility disappears in the face of numerous other polls which directly contradicts Third Way’s claims about these results.

Oh, and we almost forgot: Two of that group’s board members worked for that CEO.

Lord Lloyd Speaks

Wall Street’s latest lordly financial fatwa comes from notorious con artist and bailout king Lloyd Blankfein. Under Blankfein’s leadership Goldman Sachs has fraudulently deceived a wide range of investors, including pension and retirement funds for many of the very same Americans who would face even more financial hardship in their senior years if Blankfein’s orders are followed by our elected leaders.

Blankfein’s comments followed the anti-social contract movement’s inaccurate and misleading script to the letter:

“Social Security wasn’t designed to … support a 30-year retirement after a 25 year career,” said Blankfein. This is a variation on the “we’re living longer” argument that’s been debunked dozens of times. Americans who lived to the age of 65 are only living a little bit longer — and the ones living the longest are the wealthiest among us, not the ones who rely on Social Security.

Blankfein’s prescriptions come straight from the script, too: “The retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised.”

Well, gosh. By uncanny coincidence, that just happens to be exactly the kind of policy package proposed by Third Way  … and by the billionaire-funded individuals named Simpson and Bowles, who issued a personal proposal after failing to get one out of their Presidential commission … and by the billionaire-funded Rivlin/Domenici group …

And it happens to be exactly the kind of package which Third Way’s outlier poll says Obama voters want to see.

Are we getting the picture yet?

Balancing Act

The Wall Street austerity script now calls for an illusory gloss of “balance,” which is to be provided by adding a little “revenue” to these enormous cuts. That’s the word of the day – “revenue” – instead of “tax increases.” The word “revenue” is used because the plan is to collect most of it from the middle class by eliminating tax deductions that it uses regularly.

“In the long run,” says Blankfein, “there has to be more revenue.” See what he did right there? In the “long run” – not now. And although he says “the burden of that revenue will be disproportionately taken up by wealthier people,” he doesn’t say how.

On the other hand, he’s very specific about the cuts we need to make to Medicare and Social Security, starting now. Why?

“Because we can’t afford them,” says Blankfein.

Of course, Blankfein had no scruples about “affordability” when it came time to rescue Goldman Sachs in the bank bailout. That took some doing, since Goldman wasn’t a bank. But helpful government executives broke the rules so that it could become a bank — and then receive $10 billion in bailout money from the same taxpayers who would suffer if Blankfein’s social diktat ever became government policy.

The Paymasters vs. the Public

We shouldn’t be surprised that Blankfein’s following the script, of course. He wrote that script — along with Republican billionaire Peter Peterson and all those who fund groups in the anti-Social Security movement, a cohort which includes Third Way and all the other pseudo-“centrist” and “bipartisan” groups.

They’re pseudo-centrist, rather than truly centrist, because the real American majority passionately opposes their ideas. Seventy percent of voters were “uncomfortable” with the Simpson Bowles proposal when it was published. A stunning majority of Americans opposed cutting Social Security for deficit reduction, including 75 percent of registered Republicans and 76 percent of self-described <em>Tea Party</em> members.

One of the latest studies to reaffirm these findings was a Campaign For America’s Future/Democracy Corps poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner immediately after the election. That poll showed that all voters – not just Obama voters – wanted the government to emphasize job creation and economic growth over deficit reduction.

The poll also found that voters opposed the Blankfein/Third Way proposal for Social Security cuts by 62 to 31 percent.

Outliers

In light of numerous polls like these, it was striking, if not stunning, to see that Third Way’s poll had uncovered such radically different findings. And yet they tell us that it did. The group’s new press release blares, “Obama Voters Say ‘Let’s Make a Deal.'”

Obama voters want “real compromises,” says Third Way. A deal should include both tax increases and spending cuts. And they think that changes that fix Medicare and Social Security would be better than no changes at all.

How do you explain such a dramatic variance?

First, by understanding that a lot of these “findings” aren’t what they claim to be. Some aren’t findings at all. When Third Way says that “only” a “miniscule” five percent of those polled want to fix the deficit with tax increases only, they’re debunking a position that nobody holds — nobody.

What progressive would oppose cuts to defense spending, for example? Or eliminating the cost of greed from our healthcare system?

Third Way also hoodwinks its interviewees – and the public – when it says that “Obama voters are worried that the safety net pillars of Social Security and Medicare are in fiscal trouble and believe they should be fixed.”

Nobody questions Medicare’s fiscal troubles – which are best addressed by eliminating runaway greed in our healthcare system. Combining “Medicare and Social Security” into one “fiscal” problem is the oldest trick in the anti-Social Security book.

Throw in a deceptively-worded question[1] and you’ve got yourself a phony conclusion.

Remembrance of Things Unseen

Third Way says breathlessly that “fixing” Social Security and Medicare was “second only to raising taxes on the wealthy” for these voters. What they don’t say is that all of these issues wound up in a narrow band of priorities which ranged from 8.09 on the high end to 7.13 on the low end.

At least, as far as we can tell. Their report withholds some data, saying that questions 1-12, 15-22, 30-35, 45-48, 50-55, and 61-81 are being “held for future release.” That’s 52 out of 81 questions. Are these questions on different topics? Do they reinforce Third Way’s claims? Undermine them? Do neither?

We don’t know. What we do know is that poll results are heavily influenced by the combination of topics raised, the order in which they’re raised, and the phrasing of each question (which affects the answers to subsequent questions).

By withholding this information, Third Way is rendering its findings even less credible than they already were.

Motive and Opportunity

So how do you really explain these findings?

This may help: Third Way’s board is dominated by financiers from a variety of Wall Street firms, including fraud-riddled JPMorgan Chase and … Goldman Sachs.

This kind of transparently fraudulent data massaging wouldn’t be worth the few minutes it takes to debunk it, if not for the fact that so many Washington decision makers fall for it. So do credulous reporters.

That has to stop. Third Way’s deception has to be seen for what it is: just another ploy by a small cadre of folks in Washington – in this case, a Democratic cadre – who have hired themselves out to the Lloyd Blankfein contingent in order to mislead us into making destructive and draconian cuts to our social safety net.

Lloyd speaks, they listen, we believe.  We can’t do anything about the first two steps — but we can put a stop to the third.

____________

[1] “Which would be better for the country? The President and Congress make changes to fix Social Security and Medicare? OR The President and Congress make no changes to Social Security and Medicare?” Note how the question a) combines the two programs; b) tells interviewees they need “changes” to be “fixed”; and then asks if it would be better to make those “fix”-ing changes … or not.

Comments