Are “Progressives” Destroying the New Deal?
Does the term Progressive mean anything anymore?
Surely it has an historical meaning and there are some roundabout descriptions of modern progressivism online like this one from Wikipedia:
Today, members of the Green Party of the United States are most likely to self-identify as liberal progressives. In the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and it is often in opposition to the more centrist or conservative Democrats who form the Blue Dogs caucus. It is also in near-continuous opposition to the Republican Party.
But what does it mean when say, the leader of the Democratic Party, President Obama proclaims himself a Progressive:
“I am someone who is no doubt progressive.”
… and then later proceeds to describe himself as a, “moderate Republican?”
“The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
Further, what does it mean when three quarters of the Congressional Progressive Caucus won’t stand up for the indispensable legacy of the progressive New Deal and Great Society advances, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.
While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
… Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. …
The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).
What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.
Yes, that’s right the President, who has, “no doubt” that he’s a progressive wants to cut the social safety net, despite the fact that he made rather a big deal that he would not do just that thing:
Now, however, the, “no doubt progressive” President is about to release his budget, which will reportedly contain cuts to programs that have always been the core of progressive policy:
President Obama’s budget proposal to be unveiled next week will include cuts to Social Security and Medicare, according to media reports Friday morning.
The most controversial element of Obama’s proposal is the inclusion of “chained CPI,” the adjustment that would over time reduce cost-of-living increases to Social Security and other federal benefit programs — effectively, a cut to Social Security benefits by tying them to inflation.
Progressives in the Media and the Blogosphere
So while many congressional “progressives” have chosen between their divided loyalties and come up as cowering yes men for the misguided juggernaut of the Obama administration, parts of the progressive media are spouting propaganda:
John Nichols tells only part of the truth in this piece and the failure to represent the whole truth makes it a specious bit of propaganda, that distracts and diverts attention away from those that are carrying out the agenda of the big money forces he decries.
[Perhaps this is a problem created by editing as Nichols is generally a reasonable guy, who has written a number of articles calling for opposition to President Obama’s Chained CPI plan. This was a publication of The Nation magazine, so perhaps they edited it and it represents their editorial position more than Nichols’ opinions and position. Since Nichols is the face, name and voice of this piece, however, the criticism will be directed at him and presumably if he gives a damn about what some blogger says, he can assert that the blame lays elsewhere.]
Nichols explains that in, as he puts it a, “Dollarocracy,” the ideas that get put forward are the ideas that have big money behind them, like cutting Social Security. He goes on to highlight the fact that austerity-loving-corporate-greedheads were able to get, “one of their own,” Paul Ryan on a ballot to run for Veep to push their plans. What Nichols fails to mention is that those austerity-loving-corporate-greedheads were going to win no matter what this election. They already have a Democratic president who is promoting their agenda on the other ticket. Guess what, they won! And there was no chance that they wouldn’t!
How is it that Nichols could have failed to notice and call out the Obama administration and the many Democrats that are performing the bidding of the, “Dollarocracy” with such alacrity these days? Nichols is an experienced pundit, he certainly has been around and allegedly paying attention long enough to know who has been pushing the 1%’s, “Dollarocracy” agenda.
Let’s take a trip through some of the evidence that one would have to ignore to create that Dollarocracy video with such a glaring omission in it…
Obama and the “Dollarocracy”
Perhaps some pundits might have missed what Barack Obama said when he was auditioning for the 1% back in 2006. Obama’s comments in 2006 show his willingness to upend the progressive orthodoxy regarding New Deal programs, which must have surely been music to our economic overlords’ ears. In a speech at the inaugural event of the Hamilton Project, Obama said:
“For those on the left, and I include myself in that category, too many of us have been interested in defending programs the way they were written in 1938,
believing that if we admit the need to modernize these programs to fit changing times, then the other side will use those acknowledgements to destroy them altogether.”
Someone declaiming against the, “Dollarocracy” certainly needs to understand the part that groups like the Hamilton Project play in perpetuating this, “Dollarocracy.” Some pundits were paying attention:
Here’s the key part of that video:
“So now let’s move to 2006, and a new group is formed as part of this constellation of moving the Democratic Party to the corporate right, and it’s a group called the Alexander Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution. And the director of it is Robert Rubin, who had been the Treasury Secretary for Clinton, had been at Goldman Sachs and, later, Citigroup. Roger Altman had been US Treasury Department under Clinton. And there’s an amazing thing. And this group is set up for budget deficit, international trade, taking on the teachers union, and they had their founding meeting in April 2006. And only one US senator shows up to speak at this founding meeting, and that’s a very new senator, Barack Obama from Illinois, who’s only been in Washington a little over a year. So for a lot of us who were tracking Obama in 2007, of course he got a lot of $25 and $50 donations from people that really wanted change they could believe in, but in 2007, way before he was a front-runner, he was out-fundraising all the other candidates from Wall Street. And it was something I’ve never quite been able to figure out. There were two presidential candidates from the state of New York, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, and Obama was out-fundraising them from Wall Street early in ’07. Now, Wall Street money and corporate money always goes to the front-runner. Obama was getting this money before he was the front-runner. So the missing piece to the puzzle is this clip where Obama is the only senator who shows up at the Alexander Hamilton Project.”
So, let’s say that a pundit entirely missed what other progressive pundits were picking up on, that Obama was a, “Dollarocracy” candidate. Let’s say they were completely bamboozled during the 2008 presidential race by Obama’s assurances that he was, “no doubt” a progressive and rhetoric like this about Social Security:
“Social Security is not in crisis; it is a fundamentally sound system, but it does have a problem, long-term. We’ve got 78 million baby boomers, who are going to be retiring over the next couple of decades. That means more retirees, fewer workers to support those retirees. We are going to have to do something about it. The best idea is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, potentially exempting middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share, a little bit more.”
Let’s say the pundit was lulled into a false sense of security by Obama’s rhetoric and he failed to pay attention on the times when Obama followed up his statement with disclaimers like, “everything has to be on the table.”
Stephanopoulos: You’ve also said with social security “everything should be on the table.” Raising the retirement age …
Obama: Everything should be on the table
Stepanopoulos: Raising payroll taxes…
Obama: Everything should be on the table. I think that we should approach it the same way that Tip O’Neal and Ronald Reagan did in 1983. They came together … I don’t want to lay out my preferences beforehand, but what I know is that social security is solvable. It is not as difficult a problem as we’re gonna have with Medicaid and Medicare.
Well goodness, that was a dead giveaway that Obama is willing to put the, “Dollarocracy’s” agenda on the table and make concessions right there during the 2008 campaign.
Speaking of the, “Dollarocracy’s” agenda, once Mr. Obama took office, the budgets that he submitted were those of the, “Dollarocracy”:
The surprising truth is that from the start of his presidency Mr Obama has planned a steep decrease in discretionary spending as a share of national income.
Each year he has put a budget on the table. Each year that budget has called for a sharp decline in discretionary spending as a share of gross domestic product in 2012 and later years. His rhetoric about increasing public investments in America’s future has always been contrary to the budgets he has presented, though most of his supporters have been unaware of this contradiction.
The administration is now vigorously blaming the Republicans for the pending cuts. Yet the level of spending for fiscal year 2013 under the sequestration will be nearly the same as Mr Obama called for in the draft budget he presented in mid-2012. … Mr Obama’s supporters will be very puzzled – many will doubt the basic fact that these cuts have long been ordained by the president, at least in general terms, though not exactly as they will now occur. Why would a progressive president plan for deep cuts in discretionary spending relative to GDP even as he advocates larger investments in health, education, infrastructure, clean energy, science and technology, job training, early childhood development and more?
Why indeed. Could it be that Mr. Obama is a moderate Republican? Or is it just his 11th dimensional chess move to get Republicans to raise taxes if he unilaterally reduces spending so that it chokes off all of the progressive programs and advances?
No doubt, whoever is responsible for the omissions of fact in the, “Dollarocracy” video missed that too.
Surely though, nobody who is paying attention could have missed notice of the “Catfood Commission?” It was hard to miss the fact that the commission was stacked to provide a particular outcome, ie., the recommendation of cuts to entitlements. After all, how many government commissions allow outsiders with an agenda, like Peter G. Peterson to provide paid staffers?
How could anybody whose job it is to follow American politics miss the close ties between Obama and the one man in America that virtually defines the term he is introducing, “Dollarocracy?” Peterson has spent a half a billion dollars of his personal fortune over the years to assure that his zombie ideas continue to reverberate in the press, think tanks and the halls of government.
A lot of, “progressives” were in denial thinking that these powerful indications of Obama’s fealty to the, “Dollarocracy” agenda was just a clever negotiating trick, “11th dimensional chess.” This bamboozlement persisted even when there was a document leak and it was revealed that Obama had put Social Security, Medicare and even veteran’s Tricare on the table for cuts in, “negotiations” with Republicans.
It would seem almost unforgivable if someone who was paying attention missed the recent comments of Gene Sperling, one of Obama’s chief economic advisers, when he said straight out that regardless of anything else, Obama prefers to implement cuts to the old, infirm, poor and unemployed through Chained (or as they’re now calling it, “superlative”) CPI.
Gene Sperling said today on his Reddit chat that the president really prefers the Chained-CPI and that it’s not just an inducement to get the Republicans on board with the Grand Bargain. This may sound obvious, since it’s been clear from before the inauguration that the administration wants to “reform” the so-called entitlements. But Sperling made it clear today that they believe in this on the merits:
The cost of living question relates to how the government measures inflation. Today, we use a measure of inflation called the “CPI” or consumer price index. An alternative would be to switch to what is known as the superlative or “chained” CPI. The superlative CPI makes two technical corrections to the standard CPI: it accounts for consumers’ ability to substitute between goods in response to changes in relative prices and accounts for biases arising from small samples. Most experts agree that the Superlative CPI provides a more accurate measure of the average change in the cost of living than the standard CPI.
The President would prefer to have this adjustment in the context of a larger Social Security reform, but he has said to Speaker Boehner that if it is part of a larger agreement that would include tax reform that would raise revenue by cutting loopholes and expenditures from the most well off, that he would be willing to agree to it because in divided government, if we’re going to make progress, we have to be willing to compromise. One important note: any agreement to make this change to the CPI must include a dedication of a portion of the savings to protections for low-income Americans, certain veterans, and older Social Security beneficiaries. Our current offer which reduces the deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years includes those protections.
As Gaius Publius rhetorically asked:
Why do low-income Americans, veterans, and the elderly need “protection” from something that’s desirable, “preferable,” and nothing more than an “more accurate measure”?
It must have been getting really hard for whoever is responsible for Nichols’ video to avoid the fact that Obama was working so assiduously for the, “Dollarocracy,” by the time that he published his commentary. About the time of its publishing, other pundits had put the pieces together about who was working for the, “Dollarocracy.”
Check out noted economist Jamie Galbrith’s contemporaneous commentary for contrast and comparison:
[The] reality has been evident for a while, thanks to the President’s pattern of giving way to banks, lobbies, Republicans and right-wing extremists. Whether your prime interest is housing, health care, peace, justice, jobs or climate change, if you are an activist in America you have known for a long time that this President is not your friend.
Still, even on these shores disillusion often took a mildly forgiving form. The President was a “disappointment.” He was weak. He had “bad negotiating skills.” He had a tendency to “deal with hostage-takers,” to “surrender.” All of this fed the image of a man with a noble spirit, a good heart, the best intentions, but trapped by limited ability and the relentless and reckless determination of his foes.
Obama is no progressive
The debt deal will make things clear. The President is not a progressive – he is not what Americans still call a “liberal.” He is a willful player in an epic drama of faux-politics, an operative for the money power, whose job is to neutralize the left with fear and distraction and then to pivot rightward and deliver a conservative result.
What Barack Obama got from the debt deal was exactly what his sponsors have wanted: a long-term lock-in of domestic spending cuts, and a path toward severe cuts in the core New Deal and Great Society insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And, of course, no tax increases at all.
How could Nichols’ video featuring a progressive leaning pundit produced and published by a progressive leaning media outlet have such a well-developed blind spot? Is it denial or something else?
Kill the Zombie!
There is a phenomenon that one sees all over the progressive media and blogosphere; diatribes are spouted against Republicans in order to obfuscate the culpability of Democrats for the creation, sale and implementation of bad policy. When Democrats are called out by actual rather than acting progressives, elaborate excuses are forwarded along with appeals to be quiet lest the evil Republicans get a leg up electorally.
This phenomenon is at it’s height during election cycles, which is a shame because it is precisely during election cycles that activist leverage is at its zenith. During election cycles, all over the progressive blogosphere, activists are “shushed.” When they attempt to raise voices to press for real progressive commitments from politicians, they are warned about the spectre of, “Nader.” (Because the 24,000 Florida Democrats who voted for Nader are responsible for Gore’s 2000 loss, not the 308,000 Florida Democrats who voted for Bush, nevermind the fact that in 2000, only nine votes in Washington DC actually counted.) During elections progressive writers, pundits and commentators in progressive media outlets also blunt their criticisms, and rather than pressing for change, meekly toe the party line – presumably in hopes that their quiet acquiescence to party will result in a few bones being tossed their way.
Well, that plan hasn’t worked. Obama and many Conservadems are working hard to undermine the New Deal, formerly the sole project of right-wing loonies, though under the clever rhetorical guise of “saving” it. If there is such a thing as the progressive movement, it will have to get its act together and raise some hell or face the loss of its legacy and any sense of the utility that their advances have offered the public.
It is anticipated that there will be blowback from the usual suspects. As Digby put it in a recent post about Obama’s terrible budget proposal:
Meanwhile prepare for a barrage of savvy, world weary commentary from your fellow liberals telling you that this is no big thing and that Democrats will not suffer even a tiny bit if they vote for a common sense proposal like this one. You will be shushed and told to calm down and take a chill pill. In other words, you will be gaslighted by fellow liberals who are embarrassed that you aren’t being coolly accepting of something that is completely unacceptable. This is how this works. Tell them to STFU and move out of the way.
So, contact your legislators and let them know in no uncertain terms where you stand.
Want to give somebody a piece of your mind about their offer to degrade the New Deal, cut your earned Social Security, unemployment, medicare and veteran’s tricare benefits? Here’s the phone number:
Want to tell your representatives about it, too?