Should Alan Simpson Be Fired for 'Sexist' Remarks?

The fallout of calling Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits"

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On Wednesday, liberals began calling for the resignation of Alan Simpson, former Republican Senate whip who currently co-chairs the president's fiscal commission. Why? On Monday, Simpson emailed a testy little diatribe to the director of the Older Women's League who had accused him in a column of ageism and sexism. In the email, he questioned her ability to read graphs and referred to Social Security as "a milk cow with 310 million tits." He concluded, "Call me when you get honest work!" Should Simpson be fired for this, despite later issuing an apology? A number of prominent liberals say "yes," saying his tone was condescending to the point of sexism, the letter was generally hostile to the elderly, and his view of Social Security was offensive. But there's plenty of dissent on this issue. Some pundits think Simpson was spot-on in his assessment, even if he could have phrased things better.

  • 'Foolish for Liberals to Want to Toss Simpson,' judges Jon Healey at the Los Angeles Times, since it seems in the letter that what Simpson's actually saying is that "too many people are benefiting" from Social Security. "That would betray an inclination to reduce ... payments to the wealthy, not to the poor," he muses. His take on the Affaire Simpson, though, is rather complex and measured:
I admire politicians who don't try to hide their irritation behind a veneer of false comity or humility. And "call when you get honest work" is a great put-down, especially for someone leading an obscure lobbying group. The fact that people are defending Carson's labors suggests that they believe Simpson lost his right to snap back at critics when he took the co-chairman's job. The bigger issues, though, are whether the commission should be looking at Social Security at all, and if so, whether Simpson is predisposed to cut benefits. I think Simpson's critics are close to right when they argue that Social Security isn't responsible for the country's fiscal problems. It's not, at least not yet.
  • Obama Can't Fire Simpson If he did, he would lose "credibility for his commissions," contends conservative radio host MacRanger on his blog. This is a commission on the deficit, and "Obama's mandate was that 'everything is on the table,' that includes, you would imagine, Social Security."
  • This Is Where Political Correctness Does Its Damage It simply prevents a serious conversation about certain issues, argues Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal:
If there is a deficit crisis, then it has to be addressed by talking about entitlements, and if you can't talk about entitlements (in a colorful manner) without having to apologize to seniors, then the whole exercise is pointless.
  • Hang On: Simpson's 'Been Talking Nonsense About Social Security from the Get-Go,' says economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who says he has long "thought the deficit commission was a bad idea," and Simpson himself was a questionable character. Obama "has to fire Simpson," says Krugman. "When you have a commission dedicated to the common good, and the co-chair dismisses Social Security as a 'milk cow with 310 million tits,' you either have to get rid of him or admit that you're completely, um, cowed by the right wing." Also, adds Krugman, this behavior is typical for Simpson. An apology isn't enough.
  • The View Simpson Was Dismissing Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice refers to John Kenneth Galbraith's onetime remark that "Those who spent their careers at highly-compensated 'intellectual' tasks were more liable to resent mandatory retirement than fear physical breakdown." In other words: she's not sure Simpson appreciates how necessary retirement is for someone who works "twelve-hour shifts at Wal-Mart." Nor, she suggests, is it fair to dismiss the concerns of those who see the current Social Security setup as sexist. She quotes the National Council of Women's Organizations on this:
"Forty-five percent of women over age 65, who live alone, do so in poverty. Women, who earn less on average for the same work as men, are hit again upon taking Social Security benefits; due to lower lifetime earnings, women receive on average less than $12,000 per year in Social Security benefits, while men receive nearly $14,000."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.