Thursday, July 21, 2011

Imagining Obama's proposals to Social Security and Medicare as a victory for the Democrats

The Obama Administration has been looking for a way to claim victory in the horrible mess of the debt-ceiling negotiations. Jim Tankersley of The National Journal (Politics of Austerity Look Better Than the Economics 07/12/2011) gives a Beltway Village view of the political wonderfulness of establishing himself as a centrist - by proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare, among other things:

As political moves go, Obama's looks pretty deft. He has his response: "I tried. Your team said 'No.' "

"He's won the race to the reasonable middle," said Ryan McConaghy, who directs the economic program at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
In the Village, cutting the highly popular and successful Social Security and Medicare programs is virtuous in itself. And since our star pundits pride themselves of having the fingers on the pulse of what Real Americans are thinking, they assume it must be good politics, too.

Tankersley does depart from the Village script in this way, though:

Economically, though, it's a questionable embrace. The most compelling evidence that deficits and uncertainty are holding back the recovery is anecdotal. For example, on Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released results of an online poll of business owners, more than half of whom cited "economic uncertainty" (broadly) as a top obstacle to hiring. Four in five respondents said the federal deficit posed a risk to the economy — but only one in five called it an "immediate threat."

Empirically, there's very little evidence of government deficits “crowding out” private borrowing by pushing up interest rates, as many supporters of expansionary austerity claim; on the contrary, borrowing rates remain near historic lows.
I know I've been quoting Krugman a lot lately. But here I go again, as they say.


He notes in Psychodrama Queens 07/12/2011 that the Administration itself is happy about an article by Gerald Seib pushing a similar Village psioition that centrism is always good. Even though cutting Social Security and Medicare had been anything but "centrists" until the Democratic President let it be publicly known last Wednesday that he embraced the idea.

But these political calculations with which our Pod Pundits entertain each other usually make bad political analysis. Which Krugman explains in the case of this latest triumph of centralism-that-was-rightwing-Republicanism-a-week-ago:

What I learn from political scientists is that this is all fantasy — albeit a kind of fantasy beloved of political pundits, who love to imagine that complicated psychodramas are playing out in the minds of voters. Well, here's a little secret: most voters don't sit around reading Clive Crook columns or debating the Bowles-Simpson plan. They have a gut sense — things are getting better or they're getting worse — and mainly vote on that basis. They're not paying attention at all to this stuff.
More concretely, there is little evidence for the neat balancing act that our punditocracy loves to imagine is playing out of some neat ideological sliding scale.

While we're on the deficiencies of our punditocracy, check out this piece by Paul Waldman, Chattering Crass The American Prospect Online 07/05/2011, about Mark Halperin.

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