The social safety net is not Barack Obama's to give away.
There's a 14 minute video of Larry O'Donnell (who is a blond MSNBC talking head, if like me, you don't follow these guys) that several progressive sites have posted in the last 24 hours praising President Obama's strategy in the debt ceiling talks with the Republicans. The current top diary at Daily Kos gushes over it. I'm not going to give it any more circulation, but here's a sample of what folks are so excited about:
I watched the whole thing. O'Donnell makes not one mention of what the proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would do the the millions of people who need those programs. Who cares? Obama's fancy footwork is all that counts in Partisan Pundit World.
Now I don't know how all this is going to come out. But unlike either Larry O'Donnell or politicians in Washington, most of us live in the real world where government programs make the difference between a modest life, anxiety and misery, and sometimes death. The so-called "entitlements," the modest government insurance programs that ensure care for the disabled and a decent old age, came into being as the product of decades of struggle by people who came before us and sacrificed to make this a more equal, more equitable country.
Barack Obama has no right to play games with the security of millions so he gets another round in that lovely Washington mansion.
When you boil these thing down, there are two possible core messages for high profile candidates running for office. You can inspire hope -- that was Obama's pitch in 2008 and the nation believed him. Or you can inspire fear of the other guys -- that's the pitch that the "rope-a-dope" Larry O'Donnell and fans think is so awesome: Republicans are crazy nuts -- vote for the grown-up.
The fear pitch leads to weak victories. You don't win office because anyone likes or trusts you; you don't have any real friends; you're just the "least worst" option in the words of some first graders I respect. In California we have lived through a nasty illustration of how damaged such lesser evil elections can leave an incumbent: Democratic Governor Gray Davis never in a long career managed to make a case for himself as anything but the lesser evil -- but hey, he got to be governor twice. That is, until a cartoon character named Schwarzenegger came along and easily knocked him off in a recall. It turned out that when push came to shove, Gray had no real friends.
Given the lunacy of the Republicans, Obama's "last responsible man" strategy might even work. But if he trades away the accomplishments of decades of Democratic politicians to win an election after which he confronts a hostile Congress without a friend in the world, will most people in this country be better off? It becomes harder and harder to answer that question.