The Honorable Erskine Bowles
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
Dear Mr. Bowles:
While we have extremely serious objections to the Social Security provisions proposed in the Bowles-Simpson plan and, indeed, its inclusion at all in a deficit reduction package, this is not why we are writing. Our request of you concerns basic human decency and the promotion of civil political discourse.
In a recent letter to the California Alliance for Retired Americans, former Senator Alan Simpson, your colleague and co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, has again crossed the boundary of civility. Mr. Simpson wrote: "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."
We could argue the merits of the policy points that Mr. Simpson asserts. No doubt you would say that your plan will protect future generations. We would differ, highlighting that middle aged and younger working persons and their families will be most harmed by the deep cuts you propose to Social Security. But we assume that you do not disagree about the uncivil -- indeed bigoted -- name calling employed by your plan's co-author. Nor is this language out of character for Mr. Simpson. Two years ago, he publicly described Social Security as "a milk cow with 310 million tits!"
We ask that you publicly repudiate Mr. Simpson's mean-spirited and bigoted remarks. We ask that you disassociate yourself from his obvious disdain for the nation's 55 million Social Security beneficiaries and the 161 million working Americans who contribute to it every paycheck. To show that you oppose bigotry in every form, we urge you to no longer make media appearances with Mr. Simpson.
Mr. Simpson has a history of using crass language and demeaning stereotypes to demonize those with whom he disagrees. Invectives such as "greedy geezers," a term he has popularized for many years, undermines human dignity. Fortunately, that type of bigoted stereotype is no longer acceptable with respect to race and gender. There should be no place in our nation's political discourse for such hateful and demeaning language about any group.
The failure to speak out about his use of invective reinforces the media's and some politicians' inclinations to give Mr. Simpson a pass when he transgresses (e.g., his comments analogizing hard-working Americans to bovines). After all, some would say, "he's just a salty old guy. He's courageous because he speaks his mind. He's witty. Oh, sometimes he puts his foot in his mouth but he means well," and the like.
But there is nothing cute about vitriolic language and dehumanizing stereotypes. Not when it is directed at ethnic, religious, or racial groups. Not when directed at women or the LGBT community. Not when it is directed at the old. And not when it is directed at political opponents.
Mr. Simpson is free to express his point of view, but his hateful rhetoric should not be given a pass and continued platform. Thus, we ask that you disassociate yourself from Mr. Simpson and from his rhetorical excesses that are more fitted to a classroom bully than a former United States Senator.
Thank you for considering this request.
Very truly yours,
Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson
Co-directors, Social Security Works