Not even trying very hard to hide it:
If you liked University of Florida student Brandon Scott’s column last Sunday about the national debt, you also should enjoy columns by Dartmouth College student Thomas Wang and University of Wisconsin student Jennifer Pavelec on the issue. After all, they’re the same columns. The identical columns ran last weekend in newspapers in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. They each included the same first-person passage describing the student’s work with the Campaign to Fix the Debt and its “millennial arm,” The Can Kicks Back.After I was told last week about the column appearing under the byline of different writers in other publications, it was removed from The Sun’s website. Staff with the Campaign to Fix the Debt, who sent out the columns, said they were templates that were supposed to be personalized or otherwise reworded. The campaign’s vice president of communications, John Romano, said Scott ¬— an intern with the group — was not at fault.”This was an inadvertent mistake and the campaign takes full responsibility for it,” he said.
I’m glad it wasn’t a deliberate mistake.
It’s been obvious for a while that this grassroots uprising is fake. This is from February:
Fix the Debt is the most hypocritical corporate PR campaign in decades, an ambitious attempt to convince the country that another cataclysmic economic crisis is around the corner and that urgent action is needed. Its strategy is pure astroturf: assemble power players in business and government under an activist banner, then take the message outside the Beltway and give it the appearance of grassroots activism by manufacturing an emergency to infuse a sense of imminent crisis.
Fix the Debt’s stable of CEOs are a PR flack’s dream. Not only are they able to get meetings with everyone from John Boehner to President Obama; they can flood cable news with laughable messages of “shared sacrifice” and be treated with fawning respect. Fix the Debt’s David Cote, CEO of Honeywell, “brings serious financial muscle to the table” when he pushes “market credible solutions,” chirps The Wall Street Journal. There is no mention that Cote is a tax-dodging, pension-skimping hypocrite: Honeywell has a negative average tax rate of -0.7 percent and underfunds its employee pensions by -$2.8 billion, making Cote’s workers even more reliant on Social Security.
To foster the illusion of a grassroots uprising, Peterson has nursed what the National Journal calls a “loose network of deficit hawk organizations that seem independent but that all spout the Peterson-sanctioned message of the need for a ‘grand bargain.'”
In addition to throwing money at groups for national tours and town hall meetings, the 86-year-old Peterson is obsessed with creating the fantasy that young people care more about the national debt than their own. This time around we have The Can Kicks Back, complete with a mascot — “AmeriCAN,” a staffer dressed as a giant can — who in December taught former Senator Alan Simpson to dance “Gangnam Style.” This goofy press stunt went viral — Peggy Noonan labeled it “merry and shrewd” — and the group enjoyed puff pieces in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Even Chelsea Clinton and George Stephanopoulos are in on the fix. In his latest effort to birth a group of bipartisan baby hawks, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has announced a $10,000 cash prize to the college student who creates the best project “designed to educate their peers on the effects of the nation’s rising debt.” Chelsea and George will judge the contest, along with Simpson and Bowles.
Fix the Debt has collected some 345,000 petition signatures, directed at Congress and the president. This sounds impressive until you learn that the goal was 10 million, and that some CEOs instructed their employees to sign — among them, the 130,000 employees at Caterpillar (it’s unknown how many did).
This strategy seems to be convincing enough for many media outlets. With a staff of eighty people and a $60 million budget, Fix the Debt “increasingly resembles a presidential race, with grassroots-style organizing and offices in places like New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida and Michigan,” writes Fortune.
“This is probably the most important phase as we see it,” gushes spokesman Jon Romano. “This is where we actually think something will happen.”
The worst part to me about the media/business interest obsession with the debt is it gets us off talking about stagnant wages and income inequality. Of course, maybe changing the subject from stagnant wages and soaring income inequality to how Social Security is ruining America is an additional objective of the campaign.