“Granny off the Cliff” is, of course, an infamous ad from 2011, sponsored not by a candidate or party but by an activist group called The Agenda Project, which, in its narration, said that Rep. Paul Ryan wanted to “privatize” Medicare (PolitiFact rated this as “mostly true”), but did so in an over-the-top fashion by showing a Paul Ryan look-alike literally pushing a wheelchaired granny off a cliff. (Yes, we assume that its a dummy that actually falls!)
Incidentally, “Granny off the Cliff” is in fact the actual title that group gave to their ad.
We don’t have grannies falling off cliffs yet, but we do have Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris making this statement in a speech yesterday:
“Just this week, just this week, the Social Security Administration said a cut to social security like the one Trump is proposing would end disability benefits within one year and all benefits within three years. So let me be as clear as possible. If Donald Trump’s extreme proposal goes into effect, the checks that American seniors are relying on, that you rely on to pay your bills, to buy your medicine, to live, will stop coming. “
Now, it’s true that, at the request of Senate Democrats, the Chief Actuary at the SSA calculated that, in a hypothetical in which payroll taxes were ended without any replacement revenue source, the Trust Funds would be drained within that time frame. I addressed this yesterday. But this is, of course, not what Trump is proposing. What he has said, instead, is that he intends for the lost revenue to be replaced by the General Fund, that is, the revenues that come from our income taxes, corporate taxes, and all the other government funds that aren’t set aside for a specific purpose.
Now, Trump has a long history of exaggeration and outright falsehood, and the fact-checkers have a long history of fact-checking him, and I’m not going to get into that. I’m also not interested, for the moment, at least, in whether Trump’s proposal makes any sense.
But this isn’t about Trump; it’s about the Biden campaign, and it’s about honesty and deceit and our prospects, or lack thereof, for a better political system, less demagogic, more interested in the common good.
Telling voters that your opponent will “end all benefits within three years” isn’t going to get us there. And Harris is smart enough to know perfectly well that her description of Trump’s proposal is dishonest.
As an isolated statement, it riles up voters who are overly credulous, willing to believe the worst about The Other Side.
As a pattern, it affirms voters’ suspicious that no side is truthful, that each candidate will say whatever they think will get them votes.
To take on the mantle of “protecting Social Security” but to do so dishonestly is not “protecting Social Security” at all — it’s making the system even more precarious, by preventing the common-ground-finding that we need to arrive at true legislative solutions.
As always, you’re invited to comment at JaneTheActuary.com!