Saturday, June 16, 2012
Can Obama run as a progressive while building a mandate for his Grand Bargain to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?Three important recent pieces give useful snapshots of the state of the Obama Presidency:
George Packer, A Foreign-Policy President New Yorker 06/12/2012
Ryan Lizza, The Second Term New Yorker 06/12/2012 06/18/2012 (It's dated later than Packer's piece, but Packer refers to it in his article.)
Michael Tomasky on Obama’s Gaffe and How His Campaign Lost Its Groove Daily Beast 06/09/2012
Each in his own way describes Obama's dilemma of needing to appeal to progressive sentiments and traditional New Dealish Democratic themes while he has governed as essentially a conservative Democrat and is seemingly obsessed with a mission of bring bipartisanship to a system in which the opposition party is irreconcilable and hyper-partisan.
It’s very late, if not too late, to base his reëlection on the blindingly clear differences between his ideology and Mitt Romney’s. For most of his first term, Obama could barely bring himself to say the words “George W. Bush” and “Republicans” (he preferred "Congress," implying that the Democrats were half the problem). He always strove for a higher language than that of ordinary partisan politics. But partisan politics is his only hope in 2012. If the Obama campaign appears to be at sea right now, that might be the reason. It has decided on a strategy that has to go against its candidate’s core identity.
[T]he [Obama] campaign isn’t telling a story. And there is a story to tell, even about the private sector. It’s a slightly more complicated story than the one Mitt Romney is telling, and more complicated means harder, but it doesn’t mean impossible. The story, in a nutshell, is this: we inherited a total disaster, things are getting better, and Romney will bring us back to disaster. The last part is the most important: putting the emphasis back on the challenger.
Lizza, in a formulation that seems to reflect the preferred messaging of the Obama campaign:
Obama entered office with what many considered a mandate. Taking advantage of large majorities in Congress, he spent the first two years passing major Democratic legislation: financial regulation and health-care reform. But the second two years were devoted to managing the gridlock created by the backlash against the first two, with a resurgent Republican Party intent on Obama’s defeat.Shrub Bush didn't run on cutting Social Security benefits. But Obama is. His major economic speech contained a specific reference to his beloved Grand Bargain, in which the Republicans would make mostly cosmetic changes in tax rates for the wealthy and Democrats would agree to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, putting all three programs on the road to being phased out in a relatively short time.
Obama has difficulty campaigning in a progressive and aggressively Democratic way because he wants to build a mandate for his Grand Bargain to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He mentioned it specifically in his economics speech on Thursday. He followed it on Friday with a speech in which he announced he was backing off his own draconian immigration enforcement policies, at least for immigrant youth. This is a concession to his base and a distraction for the Grand Bargain aspect of his economics speech.
Lizza's Obama-friendly piece downplays the idea of the President needing a mandate from the people. But he gives Old Hickory himself credit for the notion as we know it, reminding us (me anyway!) of Andrew Jackson democratic orientation, which was radical-progressive in the context of the time of his Presidency, and of his contributions as a Founder. Yes, Jackson counts as a Founder; as a young man, he fought in the Revolutionary War. Lizza's historical note:
The concept of a mandate was essentially invented by Andrew Jackson, who first popularized the notion that the President “is the direct representative of the American people,” and it was later institutionalized by Woodrow Wilson, who explicitly wanted the American government to be like the more responsive parliamentary system of the United Kingdom. Like Jackson, he argued that the President was the "one national voice in the country." Every President since Wilson has at least implicitly adopted this theory, and the Presidential mandate has become enshrined in our national politics. [my emphasis]A discouragingly large portion of Packer's argument is making the Obama Administration's case for enacting the Grand Bargain to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This on-the-record quote from David Plouffe is sadly telling:
“If both chambers are more evenly divided, it could be a recipe for actually getting some things done,” David Plouffe, Obama’s senior adviser, said. “Because of the closeness, neither party’s going to be able to do anything on its own, so either zero gets done for two years or there is kind of a center.” He argued that, despite the failures of the five bipartisan groups that had tried to negotiate a budget deal last year, there was movement on the toughest issues. For Democrats, the most painful decision is how far to go in making changes to entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. For Republicans, the biggest hurdle is agreeing to higher government revenues. “By the end, more Republicans said they’re open to revenue than at the beginning,” Plouffe said. “And at the beginning Democrats were very cool to any entitlement reform. By the end, they were willing to do something. That’s what we learned.”For the Obama Administration and corporate Democrats, there's not a question of whether Social Security and Medicare should be cut. It's a question of how much. This is a horrible development.
And this is a sign from Packer's account of how little serious the Obama Administration may be about getting rid of the gigantic Bush tax cuts (subsidies) for the One Percent:
Several White House officials I talked to made it clear that if a deal, or at least the framework for a deal, is not reached before December 31st Obama would allow all the Bush tax cuts to expire — a tactic that would achieve huge deficit reduction, but in a particularly painful and ill-conceived fashion. The Administration is preparing for that outcome, and Republicans may not be willing to budge without the threat of this cataclysm. Plouffe said, “I think we’re going to have the ability to tell the American people, ‘Hey, your taxes may go up on January 1st because these guys refuse to ask the wealthy to do anything. Hey, there are going to be cuts in spending that aren’t done as smartly as they could because these guys won’t agree to ask anything from the wealthy.’ ” [my emphasis]Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be "particularly painful and ill-conceived"? This is a signal that the White House is looking to have a replay of the debt ceiling fight of 2011, only this time getting the Grand Bargain through.
Here's yet another indication of how central the Grand Bargain is to Obama's plans:
The President’s list of options will be short. Obama has been a national politician since 2004, and the priorities he’s discussed haven’t changed much since then. Depending on the makeup of Congress, he might first have to consider whether he needs to play offense or defense. If the President gets past the grand bargain, “it would be a legacy achievement,” [Austan] Goolsbee, who has known Obama since 2004, said. “Then he would have to decide: Is the next issue protecting and establishing the health plan, or moving on to something new? ..."Goolsbee's phrasing invites a little pop psychology parsing. In other to pass the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Administration will need to get it past what one can only hope will be ferocious opposition from the general public. Goolsbee seems to think that the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is what Obama sees as the second great piece of his domestic legacy, along with health care.
Digby has been warning us about this since Obama took office. And at this point she looks more correct than ever.
One more quote from the Packer article indicating again how focused the Administration is on the wrong economic priorities; Grand Bargain in this quote is referenced as "reducing the deficit in the right way":
It took considerable arm-twisting to get Plouffe to think past the details of the daily campaign and consider the long view. “If we win,” he said finally, “January of 2017, what do we want to look back and be able to say? One, we’ve recovered from the recession. Second, our economic and tax policies in this country are more centered on the middle class and on people trying to get in the middle class. Third, the big unmet challenges — health care, education reform, energy, immigration, and reducing the deficit in the right way — we met them.Tags: 2012 election, barack obama, grand bargain, medicaid, medicare, social security
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That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
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