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Republicans Already Attacking Proposed Social Security Cuts From the Left

Conservatives are already attacking President Barack Obama for cutting Social Security, before the ink is even dry on any deal that would accomplish this. While this tactic should in theory collapse under the weight of its own hypocrisy, it’s essentially the same script that won the Republicans the House of Representatives in 2010, and would definitely be a feature of their efforts in 2012.

Erick Erickson, a fairly ridiculous man who runs the conservative group blog RedState, sent an email to supporters accusing the President of cutting Social Security benefits for the next generation. In the letter, which was passed my way, Erickson says “If I were counting on Social Security today, I’d be dead scared.” Here’s an excerpt.

Dear RedState Supporter,

It’s the devastating truth that young voters will believe whatever Barack Obama tells them.

First he says he’ll never consider cutting Social Security. Now he says he WILL consider cutting Social Security. And the young will go along with it. Just because he says it’s right.

“Don’t worry, Dad, President Obama says you’ll hardly notice the cuts.”

If I were counting on Social Security today, I’d be dead scared.

Interestingly, the letter is pitched at “getting the truth” to young voters, who Erickson says provided the margin of victory in 2008. It’s part of a campaign through the far-right publisher Human Events to get 18-34 year olds exposed to conservative ideas.

But the actual focus is to lay the groundwork for a narrative of Obama cutting Social Security. Now, this is totally ridiculous coming from a conservative movement which has cherished cutting the social safety net since its inception. However, it’s pretty much the same gambit that conservatives pulled off in 2010, when they created ads about the $500 billion in Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act. Those cuts largely went to ending corporate welfare in the form of Medicare Advantage overpayments, but that didn’t matter. This slightly plausible attack line was the only substantive critique used by Republicans in 2010, and it was devastatingly successful. In the event of a grand bargain that implements an immediate benefit cut to Social Security recipients through chained CPI, or makes other cuts to safety net programs, there can be no doubt that they will try the same thing. In fact, they’re already on it.

There’s something more to this than merely an attack line. It’s an attempt to chip away at 80 years of Democratic branding. And the President has handed the opposition the pick axe. The White House would claim that they are making modest adjustments to make these programs sustainable over the long-term. But once cuts enter the equation, you give the other side rhetorical space for attack. This comes after Republicans were on the mat over their plan to end Medicare and turn it into a voucher system. But an aspirational plan will be counteracted by whatever grand bargain comes forward. And while this doesn’t fit with the last several decades of Republican attacks on Social Security, it certainly fits with the new demographic picture of their party, largely older white Christians.

When a party loses its definition, when it can only define itself in opposition to a fully articulated worldview, and when even then it cannot differentiate itself, so concerned is it with bending over backwards to please the other side, it gives voters little reason to affirmatively support them.

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David Dayen

David Dayen