Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Dems to Country: Fix social security? Not our job.

The New Trier Township Democratic Organization (“NTDO”) presented a panel discussion titled “What’s Next for the Democratic Party,” at the Winnetka Woman’s Club on Sunday afternoon, February 27, 2005. Speaking at the program were Pete Giangreco, Democratic Campaign Consultant with the Strategy Group, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D- Evanston, 9th CD) and Congresswoman Melissa Bean (D- Barrington, 8th CD).

Bill Crowley, the longtime NTDO Committeeman moderated the program, attended by about 100 people. The audience seemed to consist of almost all, if not all, partisan Democrats. The event, however, seemed open to the public, as it was promoted in the Pioneer Press and with flyers at the local stores. On the other hand, I wouldn’t exactly call it a Town Hall meeting and I didn’t see anyone there wearing a George Bush pin, or even a Corinne Wood button.

An always amiable Bill Crowley did allow me to attend as a media member and take notes, but I was not allowed to video or audio record it. And, that was surprising because NTDO Committeeman Crowley has been quite good about that with me at a number of more partisan events. Perhaps someone on the panel or in the audience was camera or audio shy. I can’t imagine why. In any case, not to worry—because I took copious, and of course, accurate notes.

Pete Giangreco started off the festivities. Giangreco has consulted with both U. S. Senator Obama and Governor Blagojevich-- and worked, in one form or another, on seven Presidential campaigns-- and worked for many, many, other Democratic winning pols [and one Republican]. Republican Guv candidate Jim Ryan, during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, honored Pete by referring to him as Blago's mediameister [Well, it was not intended as a compliment, but I think Pete took it that way].

Pistol Pete gave an enthusiastic [has Pete ever been otherwise?] pep rally speech-- telling the faithful that the polls all showed social security should be a big winner for the Democrats, apparently both for 2006 and 2008. And, Pete emphasized, it is “Not up to us to fix this problem [of Social Security], it is up to them to govern.”

When Pete was last on my TV show [BTW, all three panelists have been on "Public Affairs," during the last six months], he said that the Democratic Party lost the presidential race, in large part, because it went with yet another elite, northeastern liberal—John Kerry, instead of his guy, John Edwards, who Pete claimed was more in tune with the culture and tone of the country, at large. But now, it seems that Pete Giangreco thinks that the Dems have an issue even John Kerry could win on—what Pete views as the country’s strong distaste for the Bush Social Security proposed reform.

Although Cong. Schakowsky did not seem to say exactly that “Social Security is not the Dems problem,” she has spoken of quite similar themes on my show, “Public Affairs.” On the air, Jan said that the Democrats should not be “baited,” into putting forward a proposal on social security. Instead, she said, Rs and Ds should sit down and negotiate some “modest adjustments,” in social security, as she claims was done twenty years ago.

As befits her much more Republican district than those areas inhabited by her fellow panelists, Cong. Bean was a bit more moderate than Pistol Pete Giangreco and Cong. Schakowsky when Bean discussed social security reform at the Winnetka Woman's Club, but Melissa Bean made it clear she is no fan of personal accounts, as “W” likes to refer to them.

Indeed, it is very passé in the Republican Party to speak of privatization of social security, or even of private accounts. And, Cong. Schakowsky seldom misses an opportunity to bash the Rs for avoiding the word privatization or private accounts—as if private, as in “private or free enterprise,” is a word or concept to run from. Personally, I think the best description is "individual" accounts, which is what the proposed social security accounts are.

Cong. Bean sounded a theme in the panel discussion that she later in the afternoon explained to me was based on an argument put forward by liberal columnist/social critic and former MIT economist Paul Krugman. As Bean put it, she thought it is inconsistent for the Republicans to say, on the one hand, that the country's economy will not have the ability to meet its social security claims and to say, on the other hand, that individuals, investing in personal [or private or individual] accounts, will find an economy that is so strong that they can earn an annualized 7% rate of return in the stock market or bond market.

To me, the Krugman argument is not one that appears persuasive, on its face—but it is one that I hope to discuss with Cong. Bean if and when she accepts my invitation to come back on my TV show, "Public Affairs."

Much to the crowd’s delight, Giangreco instructed it that if the Dems got a chance to question, say, Cong. Mark Kirk (R- Highland Park; 10th CD) or Cong. Henry Hyde (R-Addison; 6th CD) -- they should pin Kirk and Hyde down on the social security matter any way they can. Pete said, “If they are having a Town Hall meeting, the Dems should bring their tape recorders,” apparently so they could lock Kirk and Hyde into their statements. Somewhat ironically, Pete was speaking at a meeting where I was barred from taping Pete-- and the Congresswomen on the panel with him.

Was Pete Giangreco being inconsistent? Shouldn’t Pete, to be consistent, have argued with Committeeman Crowley when Crowley barred a media member from taping the event? Heck no, I imagine Pete might say. After all, it is politics, where “foolish consistency [on both sides] is the hobgoblin of small minds.”

BTW, Pete's reference at the Winnetka Woman's club event to Cong. Hyde was probably due to the fact that Cong. Hyde’s 2004 Democratic opponent-- Christine Cegelis-- was at the event and introduced to the crowd as someone who is running in the 6th CD again in 2006.

Also present, but not vocal, at the NTDO Sunday event was former four term State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash, who is the Chair, Tenth Congressional District Democrats; a Democratic State Central Committeewoman and a major force behind the tenthdems.org website. Indeed, there has even been a rumor going around that Gash would challenge her old seatmate [sort of] from their Illinois House days, Gov. Blagojevich.

But, I wouldn't bet on that one. Gash has seemingly settled into her behind the scenes role as a kingmaker and queenmaker, having helped Cong. Melissa Bean upset Phil Crane in the 8th, Senator Susan Garrett beat then incumbent Republican Senator Kathy Parker in the 29th Dist. and a number of others. Indeed, if Gash were going to run for elective office again, I would think she would do it in the 10th CD,where she lost only by 5500 votes in 2000 to Mark Kirk, and the 10th, although redistricted in 2002 to help Cong. Kirk, will not be much more Republican in 2006 than it was in 2000.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at JBCG@aol.com