Salon readers weigh in on the State of the Union, the Iraqi elections and the battle over Social Security.

Published February 4, 2005 9:00AM (EST)

[Read "Talking Hope, Selling Fear," by Tim Grieve.]

Will someone please give Tim Grieve two aspirin and a cup of chicken soup and tell him to come back when he has recovered? He seems possessed of some fevered idea that a partial election with "only" 11 people killed makes it hard to condemn the lies of our government, its support of torture, its unlawful invasion of another country, its wanton destruction of Iraqi civil life, and its sacrifice of Iraqi citizens and our military for ... what? Halliburton contracts? Bush's self-aggrandizement? Neocon political theory?

The bravery of Iraqis in risking their lives to vote belongs to them, and only to them, as columnists have pointed out. We don't deserve credit for this. I know of no one except Tim Grieve (plus the far-right spinners) who thinks the election changes anything. It seems shameful that we have to pray that the Iraqis' bravery and determination will get them out of the mess that we got them into, knowing that we have people here who will take credit for their work and sacrifice.

-- Suzy Shedd

Tim Grieve writes that the next four years "will be complicated, for [Bush] and for the rest of us."

I disagree. One of the more frustrating things about this president is his complete and utter refusal to acknowledge complexity, let alone deal with it constructively.

After his inaugural address, there was no shortage of commentary explaining how Bush "didn't really mean" all that talk about freedom and democracy. Take, for example, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, etc., all of which are unfree and non-democratic, but whose status as favored nations is unthreatened by those facts.

The problem is that, in Bush's own mind, he really does mean it. The ambiguities exposed by all the commentary don't really exist for this president.

-- Chloe Pajerek

[Read "Another 'Mission Accomplished' Moment?" by Arianna Huffington.]

Arianna Huffington may not have drunk "from the River Lethe that brought forgetfulness and oblivion to [her] ancient ancestors," but her memory is selective nonetheless. She must not recall the unsustainable status quo that existed with Iraq's "no-fly zones" and the debilitating effects of economic sanctions. Apparently she does not remember the scathing criticisms of U.S. policy in the Arab media.

I can't disagree with her assertion that preparation for the war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation have been badly handled by the Bush administration. But I rail at the notion that the war in Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." I fault the Bush administration for having done a good thing badly.

-- Jeff Pearson

[Read "Making the Case for Social Insecurity," by Farhad Manjoo.]

Throughout most of his piece, Farhad Manjoo seems like a reasonably straight shooter. But, at the end, he tips his hand, revealing that he's in favor of George W. Bush. Manjoo is a shill for the Bush administration plan. Buried in the subtext is Manjoo's admiration for Bush and for Bush's ability to successfully use lies to get his political way.

The "alluringly simple" arguments Bush depends on -- which Manjoo tells his readers will ensure that Bush "pulls off" his restructuring of Social Security -- should simply be called lies.

The only things Bush has going for him in his effort to "reform" Social Security (i.e., to destroy it) are money (to throw at the argument), spin (to distract attention from the numbers), bullying (to beat up on anyone who doesn't go along), and a complete disregard for the intelligence of the American people.

Yes, lies do work. But at what cost? Manjoo's admiration of Bush's methods overlooks the real question of the Social Security issue: What will happen to the American people if Bush's plan is adopted?

Down that road lie swelling deficits, slashed benefits, and no promise of secure returns. Similar experiments in Chile and Britain have forced many thousands of seniors to live without benefits.

Manjoo should take off his rose-colored glasses, stuff his admiration for Bush's methods into his back pocket, and call the Bush plan for what it is: a political trick and a very, very Big Lie.

-- Erik Wood

Democrats should not deny that the Social Security crisis exists -- to do so is disingenuous and not particularly constructive. Instead, Democrats should enter the debate and steer it in a more prudent direction.

For example, as Roger Lowenstein observes (in an article to which Farhad Manjoo's article refers and links), no one on either side of the aisle has proposed privatizing the system in a manner that pools benefits, like CalPERS and other state pension funds do. This solution has many advantages over the administration's private-accounts proposal. As Lowenstein points out, this is a more cost-effective way to deliver benefits. But more importantly, under a CalPERS-like approach the government manages the money, rather than individuals who may or may not have the necessary expertise. This paternalistic approach is consistent with Democrats' ideals, and it needs an advocate.

Another reason to enter the debate is the Democratic Party's disregard of the younger generation. Social Security reform is an issue that I believe young voters care about. (Yes, some of the MTV crowd actually work for a living.) Pandering to the AARP, as the Dems so frequently do, won't win the party any young constituents.

Farhad Manjoo describes Democratic supporters of the administration proposal as "centrist." I prefer the terms "progressive" and "reform-minded." Labeling Social Security reform as centrist and assigning the term "centrist" a pejorative value does a disservice to Democrats. The Democratic Party needs forward-thinking leaders to step up to the plate and across the aisle on the Social Security issue.

-- Laura Roos

Top 10 ways Bush plans to cut Social Security:

10. Call the plan "privatization."

9. Draft seniors into the military.

8. Out all covert CIA operatives over 55.

7. Replace red (extreme) with gray (very angry) on the Homeland Security Alert scale.

6. Explain that, while Social Security is currently not insolvent, it possesses "the will to become insolvent in the future."

5. Promote global democracy -- Americans can only afford to retire in the Third World.

4. Give KBR a huge no-bid contract to build a retirement community at Gitmo.

3. Count on reduced senior relocation expenses in the future, when Maine's climate is the same as Florida's.

2. Send Condi to the U.N. to accuse Arizona and Florida of having nuclear programs.

1. Have Fox News cite links between al-Qaida and the AARP.

-- Robert Jones

By Salon Staff

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