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Breaking Point: Obama and the Death of the Democratic Party

According to both the Washington Post and the New York Times, Obama is proposing cuts to Social Security in exchange for GOP support for tax hikes. Lori Montgomery in the Post:

At a meeting with top House and Senate leaders set for Thursday morning, Obama plans to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.  As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal.

And Jay Carney’s carefully chosen weasel-words today do not contradict this:

“There is no news here – the President has always said that while social security is not a major driver of the deficit, we do need to strengthen the program and the President said in the State of the Union Address that he wanted to work with both parties to do so in a balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn’t slash benefits.”

Nobody ever says they want to “cut” Social Security or Medicare. They want to “save” it.  Just ask Pete Peterson, he wants to “save” it. Likewise AARP.  They don’t want reduced benefits for senior citizens, they want to “preserve” it for future generations.  If they have an enormous customer base they can market private “add-on” accounts and other retirement products to when Social Security goes bye-bye, I guess that’s just a happy coincidence.

Now if you think that this is something the President is doing because it’s the only way to get Republican cooperation you can stop reading here, because we’re going to disagree.  From the moment he took the White House, the President has wanted to cut Social Security benefits.  David Brooks reported that three administration officials called him to say Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending” in March of 2009.  You can only live in denial for so long and still lay claim to being tethered to reality.

And if you think it’s only the President, and the progressives in Congress will oppose him, we’ll have to disagree about that too.  Nancy Pelosi can always come up with the votes she needs to pass whatever the White House wants, and she’ll do it again this time.  It’s her only chance to ever be Speaker again.  If the Democrats somehow manage to retake control of the House, she needs Obama’s support.  She’ll shake her fist and say things like any health care bill “without a strong public option will not pass the House” — and then turn around and force her caucus to walk the plank.

Progressive Democratic “leaders” like Raul Grijalva will fold once again like a house of cards if need be — and they know it.  Today, the Huffington Post reports:

Progressives Won’t Criticize Obama For Proposed Social Security Cuts

Grijalva and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a vice chair of the caucus, defended the president for signaling he would be willing to take a look at changes to the programs, arguing there are ways to restructure entitlement spending to save money without hurting beneficiaries.

Translation: They’ll wait for the whip count to see if their votes are needed, and if not, they can let somebody else be the “rotating villain” this time. But just in case, they’re leaving the back door open for themselves.

What we’re watching is the death of the Democratic Party.  Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it.  The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net.  Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles.   As recently as 2006, Democrats retook the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it.  Just like George Bush, Obama now wants to “save” Social Security….by giving those who want to burn it to the ground the the very thing they’ve wanted for decades.

Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation.  The amount of damage that the Democrats under Obama have been able to do has been immeasurable, by virtue of the fact that they are less awful that George Bush.  But where George Bush failed, Obama will probably succeed.

Which means we’re watching another casualty here:  Democracy.  Or at least, the illusion that we live in a democratic society.  The public, regardless of party,  overwhelmingly opposes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But elected officials of both parties are hell-bent on conspiring to bring the programs to an end.  They seem to have come to grips with a fact that the public has not: their tenure in office depends on carrying out the wishes of oligarchical elites.

There is only one thing you can reasonably conclude as you watch the political theater that is transpiring:  what the voting public thinks really isn’t all that important.  And to the extent that it does matter, it can easily be channeled by those with sufficient money to pay the tab.  Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels, but in our modern era, that honor goes to tribalism.  The list of horrors that people found intolerable when George Bush was in office, but are now blithely accepting because  “Sarah Palin would be worse,” grows longer every day.

We’ll fight this, because it’s the right thing to do.  We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this “shock doctrine” for America.  And maybe along the way we’ll get a vision of what comes next.  Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.

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