Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, as followers of the entitlements debate know, is, shall we say, tart-tongued and gutsy. Or, from the perspective of people he disagrees with, ugly and insulting. Even though President Obama appointed Simpson as one of the co-chairs of his fiscal commission—tasked with creating a blueprint for cutting the deficit and dealing with those pesky entitlements—Simpson’s frequent borderline comments often escape attention in the media.
Recently, though,some have paid attention. A tip of the hat to the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, and Politico, for calling attention to Simpson’s latest rant.
This time what offended the former senator was a flyer handed out by the California Alliance for Retired Americans, an umbrella group based in Oakland that says it represents around 800,000 retirees. The group had organized pickets at events where Simpson was appearing to promote the commission’s deficit reduction plan. Picketers distributed a flyer, which read “Simpson! Bowles! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!”
Last week Politico revealed that Simpson sent a letter to the group (it was dated April 6, though the group said it had just received it). In the letter, addressed to “To Whom It May Concern,” Simpson said the group’s flyer is:
“One of the phoniest excuses for a ‘flyer’ I have ever seen. You use the faces of young people, who are the ones who are going to get gutted while you continue to push out your blather and drivel. What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the ‘greedy geezers’ like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap. You must feel some sense of shame for shoveling out this bulls **t.”
He urged the letter’s recipients to “read the damn report—The Moment of Truth—67 pages and then tell me if we’re not doing the right thing with Social Security.”
Carolyn Lochhead’s Below the Beltway column in the Chronicle described Simpson’s letter as “a brief, but tightly packed, tirade against senior groups that fail to acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare are the primary contributors to the nation’s long-term fiscal deficits.” She balanced that opinion with some lengthy comments from an officer of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, who said he had read The Moment of Truth and discussed the need to expand Social Security, not cut it.
The Mercury News’s Political Blotter quoted Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, who called Simpson’s letter “a slap in the face” to workers who have “legitimate concerns about how out of touch longtime DC insiders like Simpson are when it comes to protecting a program that’s essential to nearly every American.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Hiltzik quoted Nan Brasmer, president of the Alliance:
“They make Social Security sound like a gift, but it isn’t a gift,” she said. “We paid for it all our working lives, and our employers paid for it.” People like Simpson, who probably wouldn’t miss it if it went away, just want to take it away from working people who would.
Underneath the invective, of course, there is a substantive debate here. Maybe Simpson’s regular remarks will start sparking some better reporting about his fiscal plan.Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: Alan Simpson, deficit, Simpson-Bowles, Social Security