New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie is the object of intense devotion among some on the right (Glenn Beck in particular). No surprise, then, that he'd get a lot of attention for going to Washington and delivering a stern lecture about how to fix the deficit. And no surprise that he'd talk about Social Security. It has nothing to do with the deficit, but that's another matter.
But his physique also works to his advantage by reinforcing Christie's appeal as something other than the blow-dried politician who says whatever the voters want to hear. Christie isn't pretty, and he tells ugly truths.
And what was this ugly truth? The need to cut Social Security benefits. As Milbank put it, Christie is brave enough to "to scold both parties in Washington for their failure to talk about what must be done to solve the debt crisis. "He writes:
Christie, however, is talking about it. "You're going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security," he said. "Whoa-ho! I just said it, and I'm still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpeting, and I said it."
Now for this to be any kind of truth–ugly or not–it has to be, well, true. As Matthew Yglesias pointed out:
Closing the projected actuarial gap in Social Security requires some combination of more immigration, higher taxes and lower benefits. Relative to higher taxes, lower benefits tend to be preferred by richer people. And of all the different ways to reduce benefits, raising the retirement age is the one that does the most to punish the poor and demands the least sacrifice from the rich.
Robert Reich, who was once a Social Security trustee, wrote a column laying out a much easier fix–raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax, which in 1983 was designed to hit 90 percent of income. It no longer does that, because rich people have gotten substantially richer. Reich writes:
If we want to go back to 90 percent, the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax would need to be raised to $180,000.
Presto. Social Security's long-term (beyond 26 years from now) problem would be solved.
So there's no reason even to consider reducing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility. The logical response to the increasing concentration of income at the top is simply to raise the ceiling.
If Christie's "ugly truth" isn't true, why does Milbank think it is? It might be because he hasa record of Social Security scaremongering, writing a column in 2007 warning that Social Security was going to be "insolvent"due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers. His response to FAIR's criticism was that he was writing about the combined effects of Social Security and Medicare–which is problematic on an entirely different level.
Chris Christie wasn't speaking the truth.But he was sending the same kind of message that people like Milbank want to hear: that workers should get benefit cuts in order to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy. It's ugly, but it's not the truth.