“It seems to me as a layman that that [the crisis of 2008 and 2009] did not produce the kind of sense of ‘we need to put our house in order, we need to talk more about sacrifice, we need to look at the long-term,’ and my personal analysis is the reason is unemployment did not reach a high enough rate.” — Jon Meacham, 2010That's "layman" Jon Meacham, who also just happens to be executive editor at Random House, former editor of Newsweek, Villager and regular attendee at private “Fiscal Summits” convened by Peter G. Peterson. Pete Peterson is the billionaire former secretary of commerce under Nixon and current businessman and committed foe of the New Deal. Being a billionaire automatically makes him a Very Serious Person and given him the ability to work tirelessly for his entire career to kill Social Security and Medicare while working to cut taxes for his billionaire friends, all in the name of taming the nation's debt.
An essential and successful element of the Peterson strategy is to create an environment where it is widely if not universally believed that there is no alternative to his vision. In this view, it’s “not realistic” to believe the country can afford the same programs it once did. Those who are prepared to be “adults” will look at these “hard truths” without flinching and recognize that it is time to take citizens-have-to-do-with-less medicine.Which makes it all so chummy. For example, you've got Leslie Stahl "interviewing" Simpson and Bowles with hard-hitting, challenging statements like this: “You are going to have to raise taxes and cut things, big things, put restrictions on Social Security. Everybody knows that.” What she left out of that assertion was "everybody [who counts as far as we're concerned] knows ..." Key to this annual exercise, the "Fiscal Summit," is that it is private and that it is sold as being a place for the "A-listers," flattering these journalists (and the Democratic lawmakers) who are invited into the mix that they are part of the team of people who really, truly knows what's best for the nation. (Consider CNN's Erin Burnett, asking House Speaker John Boehner "Do you think that democracy is part of the problem? That in a democracy people are always going to vote for more things, they are never going to vote to take them away. [...] Is democracy going to be what sends us over the cliff?”)
The conceit is that those with “courage” will see past narrow, partisan concerns and embrace an ideal: a bipartisan consensus that has the strength to demand “shared sacrifice” from a childish and selfish populace.
A review of the proceedings of the Fiscal Summits of the last three years makes agonizingly clear that most of the journalists who conducted interviews or moderated panel discussions both reflected and amplified the Peterson worldview—entirely unselfconsciously, it would seem.
There are a few exceptions included in this article, and journalists who just might not be getting an invitation this spring. Ezra Klein pointed out the big disconnect between the people in D.C. where "[y]ou pretty much have to carry people out of the U.S. Senate" and the rest of the working population when it comes to the question of when they want to retire, pointing out by way of a question that there's a difference "between what the public would like to do on entitlements and what elites would like to do entitlements." Judy Woodruff challenged Paul Ryan on his budget, and whether cutting the stuff that helps people "at the lower end of the income scale" isn't the reverse of the class warfare he accuses President Obama of waging.
But for the most part, these journalists are so happy to be considered among the elite of Washington, D.C., they cease to function as actual journalists, to challenge, to question, to probe. The Fiscal Summits are designed to work that way. They're not designed to actually find ways, like a public health care option or eliminating the payroll cap on Social Security taxes, to reduce the deficit and not make people suffer. Because Pete Peterson doesn't care about the deficit. Pete Peterson cares about ending the New Deal and the Great Society, and he's flattered a great many journalists who really should know better into becoming his useful puppets.