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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

"310 Million Tits" -- If Simpson Doesn't Resign, the President Must Fire Him

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(UPDATED below to address Simpson's statement of apology)

Alan Simpson is the co-chair of President Obama's Deficit Commission, which is charged with creating a bipartisan consensus for balancing the budget. Lately Simpson's foulmouthed tirades have drawn at least as much attention as the Commission's actual work. His latest rant -- which includes denigrating an activist for women's issues with remarks about "a milk cow with 310 million tits" -- crosses the line once and for all. It demonstrates conclusively that he possesses neither the judgment, the ability, nor the emotional stability to carry out his mission. He's become an embarrassment to the President and an impediment to his Commission's objectives. He must resign immediately. If he's unwilling to do so, the President must fire him.

Simpson's notoriously thin-skinned, and he's in the habit of pelting his critics with abusive monologues or emails. That argumentative streak, which has only gotten worse in recent months, leaves him spectacularly ill-suited to the mission the President laid out for him when he announced the formation of his Commission. The President said "I'm confident that the Commission I'm establishing today will build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility."

Instead of building consensus, Simpson's been showering skeptics with abuse, rather than persuasion. His run-in with activist Alex Lawson became an Internet sensation, both for Simpson's unbalanced demeanor and for the sheer irrationality of his attempted counter-arguments. A Simpson email to Dean Baker read in part: "if this is the way that you do your reporting, I would think that you would have damn few fans or readers!" (He seems unaware that Baker's a highly respected economist.) Simpson adds: "I loved the picture accompanying your piece. With chin in hand, I first thought of Rodin's The Thinker -- but after reading the piece I can see you haven't done very much of that!"

There's a temptation among Washington insiders to shrug or laugh and say, "That's just Alan being Alan." But this is no laughing matter: He's gone from being refreshingly candid to being abusive, rude, and emotionally unstable. As for the Ashley B. Carson email, it's not just that he deprecatingly refers to activists for women's issues as "Pink Panthers," or even that he used the word "tit" in writing to a woman. Simpson could claim that he's known for barnyard metaphors, although its beginning to look like there's a certain disdain for women at play too. But the problem isn't just emotional balance, courtesy, or even respect for women: It's objectivity.

Here's that three-letter word in context, from his email to Ms. Carson: "... (Y)es, I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits!"

This comment makes something else clear about Simpson: He really hates people who collect Social Security. He already made that feeling pretty clear when he referred to retired Social Security recipients as "greedy geezers." He's not just referring to wealthy Americans who collect Social Security benefits here -- 310 million is the entire population of the United States. He's saying every American who contributes to the Social Security system and is therefore entitled to its retirement benefits is suckling at the teat of the system -- even though they and their employers funded that system!

This is a person who's made up his mind: People who collect Social Security are "milking the system." (How, exactly? People don't calculate their own benefits, after all.) But to Simpson, they're parasites. And anyone who has a different perspective on Social Security is to be attacked, not engaged in dialog.

Here's what the President said when he appointed Simpson and his co-chair: "I know they'll take up their work with the sense of integrity and strength of commitment that America's people deserve and America's future demands." Simpson's Commission is charged with undertaking its task in an unbiased manner, then reporting its conclusions to the American people in a way that will instill confidence in their fairness and objectivity. Alan Simpson has proven that he's unable to carry out that task.

I've expressed my own opinions before... I disagree with Simpson's position, and those of some others on his Commission. But I'll make a confession: I've always had a secret fondness for Simpson himself, because he always seemed unpretentious and direct. Either my judgment was wrong, or he he's gone off the deep end in recent months -- perhaps as a result of intense criticism. He's gone from blunt talk and candor to irrationality, rage, and unrestrained hostility toward the people whose financial interests he's charged with protecting.

Simpson's note to Ms. Carson ends with these words: "Call when you get honest work!" Apparently advocating for older women isn't "honest work" -- unlike, for example, serving on the Board of Directors for an insurance and annuity fund or a biotech company. (Simpson's done both.) We can add public interest work to the list of things Simpson reflexively dislikes. As for Ms. Carson's particular area of advocacy, it should be noted that women receive significantly less in Social Security payments after retirement than men do. Given that it provides a marginal income at best, Mr. Simpson should be more interested in her work than he appears to be.

The only fair conclusions that can be be drawn from Simpson's latest outburst are these:

  • He has a strong dislike for retired Social Security recipients.
  • He is temperamentally incapable of coping with disagreement or criticism.
  • He lacks both the judgment and the emotional stability to make unbiased decisions, or to communicate those decisions effectively on behalf of his Commission and the President who appointed him.

Simpson must resign immediately. If he does not, the President must fire him.

(Sign the petition to remove Alan Simpson)

Also: This blog post on the same topic has a better title than mine.

UPDATE: Ryan Grim reports that Mr. Simpson has issued an apology to Ms. Carson. He's to be commended for writing the note, which is gracious and well-written. Unfortunately, it's not enough. (more here)

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Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Strengthen Social Security campaign. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.

He can be reached at "rjeskow@ourfuture.org."

Website: Eskow and Associates

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