Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Obama in idiot mode again

I suppose I should write something about the Prez plumping down for unnecessary Social Security cuts by way of changing how inflation is measured.

My thoughts are simple: the man is a political idiot. He wanted to be a transformative figure and being the first Black man elected President gave him a huge leg up on the project. But he has never apparently understood that policy options that satisfy "experts" and mollify centrist opinion mongers merely make a President mediocre. Transformative Presidents build the political force to sustain their achievements.

Abraham Lincoln is generally thought the country's greatest President. His policy choices saved the integrity of the country and ended slavery -- that's greatness alright. But we forget that he accomplished this while somehow building a new political party out of northern businessmen, urban workers, small farmers on the frontier -- and the unruly, noisy chorus of moralist abolitionists. He knew he needed the absolutists, even if they were the most fractious bit of the potential ruling coalition. And somehow he held all these tendencies together, won the war, and won the future by launching the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. Now that's transformative. (See here and here.)

Obama simply doesn't seem to understand that nothing he does -- Obamacare, any "grand fiscal bargain" -- will survive if he doesn't leave behind an organized constituency (a Party) to defend his policies. Maybe if Obamacare ever gets off the ground it will develop a constituency, but a Rube Goldberg machine like this seems more likely to be picked apart before people form any attachment too it. The "there that is there" is too opaque. And by abetting Republicans at picking away at the structure of Social Security -- that's what chained CPI does -- he's throwing away whatever allegiance his Party commands as the defender of middle class citizens. (Another Democrat, Bill Clinton, kicked poor women under the bus a couple of decades ago.) Sure, he might even achieve some slight of hand that means that the cuts aren't as harmful as they seem on first glance -- the former Obama budget director is peddling this line today. But he's putting himself and his party on record against the fundamental wish most citizens have of government -- that it provide some basic security. This is a prescription for seeing even the good he's done washed away in his wake. The spectacle is sad and infuriating because the people need to the government to do its job. That's why we have it. And watching Obama fumble the politics is getting boring; we saw all this in the 2011 debt ceiling debacle. Nothing much has changed.
***
Interestingly, the often irritating Ezra Klein at the Washington Post pointed out on Friday what a President building a legacy would be fighting for.
Today, Social Security provides 37 percent of the income for all Americans over 65, and about 80 percent of the income for seniors in the bottom half of the income distribution. …

In a report for the New American Foundation, Michael Lind, Steven Hill, Robert Hiltonsmith and Joshua Freedman survey [the] data and conclude that the ongoing debate over how to cut Social Security is all wrong: We need to make Social Security much more generous.

…It has become common in Washington for wonks and politicians alike to lament the public’s resistance to cutting Medicare and Social Security. But that resistance is there for a reason: These programs work extraordinarily well. Social Security has been wildly successful at raising living standards for the elderly, even as other forms of retirement savings have grown shakier. Medicare is cheaper than private health insurance, and has seen its costs grow more slowly, to boot. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of our entitlement programs as problems to be solved, we’re missing all the problems they can solve.
We're thrown back to the truism: if (organized) people lead, maybe the leaders will follow.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I'm watching the live streaming as I type this. I'm one of the lower income seniors who doesn't get the average check. It's not easy but it beats the alternative. I urge everyone to call 1-800-998-0180 to reach their reps and tell them to get rid of the chained CPI!

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