Sunday, October 15, 2006

Live by the sound bite, die by the sound bite

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:14 AM |  

The Kennedy campaign has issued a press release in response to Eric Black’s Strib piece reporting on Kennedy’s ad saying Amy Klobuchar wants to provide social security to illegal aliens, which Black has responded to by saying he stands by his story.

Here are the grafs at issue. First Black

To back up the ad's claims, the Kennedy campaign cites the fact that Klobuchar has said she would have voted for the Senate bill on immigration that passed in May. This is true.

Kennedy says that this bill would have provided Social Security benefits to illegal workers, or at least give credit to formerly illegal workers for work done while they were illegal. That is false.

Under existing law, Social Security already pays benefits to retirees who have legal status in retirement, for work done when they were illegal, if they can demonstrate that they paid the FICA payroll taxes that support Social Security.

The Senate bill leaves that alone. To say that voting for that bill would give benefits to illegal immigrants is false. The strongest claim you could make in defense of the inference that Kennedy has drawn would be this:

The bill would create a new guest worker program and an easier path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country. Therefore it would likely increase the number of formerly illegal workers who will become legal and eventually claim benefits for work done while they were illegal. Therefore supporting the bill means allowing more illegal immigrants eventually to get Social Security benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the impact of the Senate immigration bill would cost the Social Security Administration $5.2 billion over the next 10 years.
And from Kennedy -

The charge is true and is based on Ms. Klobuchar’s support for the Senate immigration bill (S 2611). The bill is sweeping in 12 million illegal immigrants, what some call amnesty, making them eligible for a variety of benefits, including Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Today, these 12 million people aren't eligible for anything. Thus, as a direct result of the Senate bill, someone who broke the law and is an illegal immigrant today, will soon be a recipient of government benefits, thus Social Security for illegal immigrants. The Star Tribune story even cites the CBO figure of $5.2 billion that this will cost Social Security. If CBO says it costs Social Security money, it clearly gives benefits to those who did not have them before.

Illegal immigrants are being rewarded by the Senate bill. As they would receive full benefits but would only be responsible for paying 3 of 5 years of taxes. All other taxpayers pay every year.

The House bill, which Mark Kennedy supports, does not make 12 million illegal immigrants legal, and thus does not make them eligible for new government benefits. That's the fundamental question we're dealing with in the immigration debate.
Political wonks will argue which version is closer to the truth, but what ought to be obvious is the issue is larger than “Amy Klobuchar wants to give social security to illegal aliens.” It’s a nice sound bite, but it’s bullshit in that its intent is to create an impression witout regard for communicating the truth of the circumstances.

If you live by the sound bite, then expect to be judged by the sound bite. When an argument is bullshit simplistic, then it only takes bullshit simplicity to refute it, and Black provides considerably more than that. Kennedy has a valid point, but the way he chose to express it -- simplistic bullshit -- again puts him on the defensive and seeming to whine about about unfair coverage.

[Contrast with the impression Kennedy makes when he avoids personality and stays on policy.]

In the final weeks of the campaign, Kennedy has locked himself into a sound bite campaign of negativity that he will live or die by. His success depends on how many people would rather have sound bites than substance. That's an ironic combination on which to pull for a Kennedy victory, but at this point, might be all he's got.