Obama vs. Social Security Trial Balloon up!
According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, U.S. Voters Want to Soak the Rich in order to fight the deficit. Matthew Yglesias writes that the only measures a majority of voters supported were
lower Medicare benefits for the rich, higher Social Security taxes for the rich, higher income taxes for the rich, higher corporate income tax, and lower Medicare payment rates. That’s pretty much an aggressively leveling agenda.
(Like Yglesias I’ll note in passing that the WSJ headlined their ‘editorial pretending to be news’ on the poll "Voters Back Tough Steps to Reduce Budget Deficit.")
But, unfortunately for all but the ruling elite, for President Obama (through his appointed commission) the way to cut the deficit is to soak the old by cutting Social Security:
In addition to raising the retirement age, which is now set to reach age 67 in 2027, specific cuts under consideration include lowering benefits for wealthier retires and trimming annual cost-of-living increases, perhaps only for wealthier retirees, people familiar with the talks said.
On the tax side, the leading idea is to increase the share of earned income that is subject to Social Security taxes, officials said. Under current law, income beyond $106,000 is exempt. Another idea is to increase the tax rate itself, said a Democrat on the commission.
The next paragraph of the WSJ piece is the ‘get a clue’ one for those who still don’t ‘get’ Obama:
Even before the commission settles on a plan, many liberals are vowing to block any cut in retirement benefits. But the White House [that’s Obama] and the powerful senior group AARP appear open to a deal.
This simply reminds us of what we long should have known about Obama. Alan Nasser’s excellent "The Neoliberal Attack on Social Security" points out (emphasis added):
Reduced benefits and a shorter retirement are the favored starting points, in the name of reducing the deficit. But the Obama boys are too smart to talk about the coming blows to workers. Even as they are in the process of effecting the “reforms”, they’d have you worry about the Republicans. . . . Obama’s neoliberalism is his own, not a response to external pressure. He made it clear before his election that he holds the New Deal and the Great Society in derision, and regards Ronald Reagan as America’s most prophetic post-War president.
Yes, of course Obama is a ‘Social Security Crisis‘ neoliberal, as anyone who read "Obama’s 3 Right-Wing Economists" long ago should’ve realized. But, probably not a particularly entrenched one, as the second sentence below indicates:
It’s probably important to remember that Obama is both a member of the ruling elite and 100% a lawyer, and the basic approach in that industry is serving clients’ needs regardless of your own personal beliefs. I’m sure he has personal beliefs on [financial and health care reform], but they’re very general/flexible and not particularly important to his job. His job is to survive politically while serving his clients, a word he (like all mainstream politicians) interprets as meaning ‘campaign contribution heavy hitters’. And those clients’ fundamental demand is to write most of the specifics of laws, including ‘reforms’, directed at their industries.
To draw optimism from the above, "His job is to survive politically . . ." is the key. It’s fairly simple: Obama will do all he can for his clients but damn well wants 2010 not to be catastrophic and wants a second term in 2012. So there’s a way for the left, or just those that don’t want Social Security to be cut, to get to Obama. But the problem now is that the organized left utterly refuses to do so. We must threaten what Obama holds dear and now, when he is floating the cutbacks trial balloon in the WSJ, but the bureaucratic left continues to act as his mouthpiece on the issue. For example, writes Nasser, observe MoveOn, which
apparently wants you to know that there is a political movement among elites to assault Social Security, but you are to associate this threat with Republicans only. Not a word about alerting the electorate to Obama and his deficit reduction panel. No suggestion that the Democratic faithful announce that the president will lose their vote if he supports the recommendations of the panel.
And how will the Obama’s deficit commission’s new openness on planned Social Security cutbacks affect the Democratic Party? How should it affect the Democratic Party? Well, of course, Democratic Party Social Security mealy-mouthing and in fact anti-populism certainly right now is shedding voters. The people listen carefully, and do not hear "no cuts."
But client wants trump popular need if you can get away with it, and maybe Obama will. After all, there still is no alternative to the two-party monopoly, nor is there within the Democratic Party any insurgent anti-neoliberal movement to challenge Obama. This despite 10% plus real unemployment, flat-lined economy, a continued two-front war in the Middle East, capitulations to the health care and financial industries on ‘their’ legislation, failed labor law reform, and now open trial ballooning of ‘cut Social Security.’
Broadly, what we need to learn is that populist anger is the mark of a real left and an indication that politicians and activist bureaucrats (like those at MoveOn) are serious, or have been scared by voter anger into being serious, about this fundamental fight between big money and the rest of us. As I’ve said:
Solution: When the right does its fear thing, a real left should do its anger thing. Anger at the unfairness and the economic elites. This leads directly to appeals for populism, egalitarianism, and social democracy, which most people of the largest classes have a natural, reflexive attraction to. That the official left can’t even say, loudly, the words "populism, egalitarianism, and social democracy" tells you all you need to know: they’re really on the same side as the right, but want to carve out a space as the party of ‘slightly more charitable and empathetic rightists.’ Screw them and that.
Find the anger, be the anti-Obama anger, that protects and improves Social Security and the economic welfare of the rest of us.
P.S. — Look here for a group honestly trying to preserve and advance the best legacy of FDR rather than the immediate strategies of neoliberal Democrats. Listen to James Galbraith and NCPSSM’s Barbara Kennelly here on the recent Social Security facts and politics.