The Ugly Truth

Chris Christie is a Republican statewide elected official in New Jersey. New Jersey is the second-richest state in the union, but it’s also quite progressive on cultural matters. Consequently, what one would expect from a Republican politician achieving some measure of political success in New Jersey is a fanatical commitment to the interests of wealthy people. So when Chris Christie delivers a speech and says “You’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security” I’m not surprised. This is unquestionably the policy option that best serves the interests of high-income New Jerseyites.

But given journalists role to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, I’m surprised to see Dana Milbank of The Washington Post offer this as an example of the following:

But his physique also works to his advantage by reinforcing Christie’s appeal as something other than the blow-dried politician who says whatever the voters want to hear. Christie isn’t pretty, and he tells ugly truths.

For “you’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security” to count as an “ugly truth” assumes that it’s true. And yet it’s not true. Closing the projected actuarial gap in Social Security requires some combination of more immigration, higher taxes, and lower benefits. Relative to higher taxes, lower benefits tend to be preferred by richer people. And of all the different ways to reduce benefits, raising the retirement age is the one that does the most to punish the poor and demands the least sacrifice from the rich. Christie, it’s true, isn’t saying “whatever the voters want to hear” but he’s not telling the truth either. What he’s doing is saying what rich people want middle class people to believe.


The particularly confusing thing, though, isn’t that Christie lied but that I read in The Washington Post that Christie’s lie is the truth. Doubly confusing is that I read a Washington Post article a few months ago by Ezra Klein that laid this out pretty clearly describing a “conversation in Washington, where affluent people who like their jobs propose cutting benefits for the poor (which is, after all, what raising the retirement age would do) rather than lowering benefits or increasing the payroll tax on, well, themselves.”