Things that Everyone Knows

Tim “Pumpkin Head” Russert said this Monday on the Hardball show:

“Everyone knows Social Security as it’s constructed is not going to be in the same place it’s gonna be for the next generation.”

He means that Social Security will have to be somehow restructured. Chris “Tweety” Matthews piped in to say:

“It’s a bad Ponzi scheme at this point, yeah.”

They went on to talk about politicians needing to make “tough choices.” “Tough choices” in this context usually means cutting promised retirement benefits instead of restoring the money that was taken from the Social Security Trust Fund and used for tax cuts. Never mind that Social Security has sufficient funds invested in its Trust Fund to cover almost any projected shortfall — tax cuts and corporate welfare mean government is going to have trouble finding the money it owes to its citizens. So to head off the idea of getting the money from where the money went, the moneyed interests have launched a campaign to make people think this is somehow Social Security’s problem — the ones owed the money — instead of the problem of the ones who got the money.
Why does “everyone know” that Social Security will need to be restructured? Because it has been repeated so often that people believe it is true. Something that “everyone knows” is also called “conventional wisdom.” Once something becomes “conventional wisdom” it is extraordinarily difficult to shake people from believing it, true or not.
This is done because on Election Day it doesn’t matter if something is actually true, it only matters what people think is true. This is the basis of the divide between the “reality-based community” and those who believe “we can create our own reality.” (It is instructive to follow the link and learn where those terms originated. )

Such is the power of propaganda. The right has had so much success with their propaganda machine that they believe it just doesn’t matter if something is true or not as long as they can make it into something that “everyone knows” or “conventional wisdom.”
Taxation is an area where there are a number of things that “everyone knows.” For example, “everyone knows” that tax cuts increase revenue. Rush Limbaugh tells everyone this almost every day. (They don’t.) “Everyone knows” that “taxes cost jobs. ” (They don’t.) In California, everything that isn’t pro-corporate and pro-conservative is a “job-killer.” Everyone “knows” this because it is repeated so often. Conservative belief in this power of words over reality is so strong that Vice President Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”
But reality does eventually catch up. The reality of Iraq has caught up and held on. The reality of cutting taxes and instead borrowing is also catching up. In 2007 the United States will pay $433 billion* just to cover interest on the debt that has built up from decades of Reagan and Bush deficits that “don’t matter.” (In California, Governor Schwarzenegger calls it “bonds.” What a nice-sounding word.) Just imagine what our country could do with $433 billion extra dollars each year. (Just imagine what is being done with it instead — by those with trillions to loan to people who believe borrowing “doesn’t matter.”)
*Special Note — The interest amount that is usually reported is actually “net” interest, which includes various interest received by the government — including received by the Social Security Trust Fund. Gross interest paid on the debt is a hard-to-find number, but can be found in this spreadsheet [Excel spreadsheet download], line 901.