Which Way Social Security-- And Which Way Democratic Party?
Standard polling that is capturing this moment in time shows Obama's re-election prospects looking very good. The only two prospective GOP candidates who even look plausible, Romney and Huckabee, are both down by 5%-- and Obama leads teabagger favorites Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann by 17% and 18% each, which would amount to the biggest landslide's in American history. But Fox has barely even begun to crank up their hate machine yet and Romney's vulture capital firm raped and pillaged billions of deployable dollars that will amount to something. And then there's Obama and the Democrats.
A week ago we looked at how one of the big third rails of American politics, Social Security, could work against Obama and even destroy the Democratic Party. Regardless of what clueless, well-heeled Inside-the-Beltway consultants and think tanks want to believe, for those of us in America, Social Security is still the most popular and beloved government program ever, even after 75 years of conservative attacks against it. I don't think Obama's reelection prospects would survive him getting on the anti-Social Security transpartisan bandwagon being floated by Inside-the-Beltway hacks like John Podesta of the ultra richly-funded Center for American Progress, Obama's anti-Social Security Cat Food Commission, and the equally suspect corporate shill outfit, Third Way.
Dan Froomkin was ringing the alarm bells for Obama at a column, Obama's Social Security Talk IS Turning Voters Off at the Huffington Post yesterday.
President Barack Obama's apparent willingness to consider cuts in Social Security benefits may be winning him points with Washington elites, but it's killing him with voters, who see the program as inviolate and may start to wonder what the Democratic Party stands for, if not for Social Security.
That's the conclusion of three top progressive pollsters who spoke to reporters Wednesday at a briefing sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, the Century Foundation and Demos.
"For the public, cutting benefits is the problem, not the solution," said Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research Associates.
As a result, the pollsters said that any Democrat seeking elected office in 2012 should be begging Obama not to say anything about Social Security cuts in his State of the Union address later this month.
A post-election poll by Celinda Lake's Lake Research Partners found that, by a margin of 3 percentage points, Americans now trust Republicans in Congress more than Democrats when it comes to Social Security-- surely the first time since the program became a signature issue for the Democratic Party in the 1930s.
The poll found confidence in Democrats on the issue dropping 14 points just since January 2007, accompanied by a 13-point increase for Republicans.
The public favors congressional Republicans over Obama on Social Security by an even larger 6-point margin. Obama's 26-percent rating is not only less than half Bill Clinton's (53 percent), it's even lower than that of George W. Bush (37 percent), whose proposal to privatize the program went down in flames.
It's hard to overstate how shocking this new dynamic is. In the two previous low points for Democrats-- June 1995 and April 2002-- Democrats still had a 10-point advantage on Social Security.
That the public would trust Republicans more on this issue was, until recently, inconceivable.
Inconceivable, but not non-exploitable by the Republicans. And while Inside-the-Beltway you find nothing but out-of-touch fat cats protecting their Guccis and Louboutins, the real fire for the middle class is as far as you can get from DC and the despised elites. In a run-up to the State of the Union, Amy Dean called on the President and all who care about the middle class to look outside of Washington for the real battleground and effective solutions to the economic crisis facing-- with apologies to Palin-- REAL AMERICANS, who wear neither Guccis nor Louboutins. And, she writes, another campaign slogan from 2008, "Hope," is not enough this time. "Presidential speeches and the hoped for newly moderated rhetoric of the Congress will not suffice to deliver results. Because while we are focused on Washington, Republicans backed by big business interests are undertaking a coordinated attack, rooted at the state level, on middle class employees. This attack could bring the end of the middle class as we have known it."
Republican legislatures in ten states across the country are pushing "right to work" laws that undermine the ability of employees who vote to join a union to have their choice respected. And even some states with Democratic governors are less focused on creating jobs than adopting measures that scapegoat those in the middle for economic problems caused by those at the top. The Republicans have been very smart tactically by framing the debate around these issues. We can only hope that people will not fall for their misdirection.
At the national level, Republicans will be talking about reducing the deficit and controlling spending. Their arguments are more about rhetoric than real action. Not only do their proposals stand little chance of being enacted, they are two-faced: even while talking about budget cuts, Republicans advocate huge tax cuts for the wealthy and seek to repeal the cost-saving measures and patient protections of healthcare reform. In truth, their still-heated rhetoric is primarily designed to give Republicans a message to take back into the districts in the next election cycle. We already know what they will be saying in six months or a year: "We tried to save you money, but the Democrats won't let us." The time to start responding to this disingenuous narrative is now.
We must recognize that the national posturing is a smoke screen designed to conceal the real battle, which is happening in the states.
At this very moment, conservatives are prepared with a scapegoat for the economic woes: unions and public employees. They have been very shrewd in using this time of crisis as an opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of the very organizations that have created the American middle class.
Masquerading their proposals as efforts to liberate working people from the yoke of big government, the right is attempting to systematically undermine the institutions that have historically allowed average people to attain a decent standard of living. Rather than seeking to bring everyone up to the standard of living wages and relative economic security that public employees have gained, Republicans are focused on bringing down those few people in our society who still have jobs that afford ordinary people hopes for health care and dignified retirement.
As a result, the campaign for the future of our country is now on. This is not about something as narrow as reelecting Barack Obama in 2012, or about the political future of any individual elected official. It is much bigger than that. We are in the fight of our lives.
So what do we do?
First, we can't focus all of our time and resources on the Congressional debate. The proposals being floated by the Republican House of Representatives make for good grandstanding, but, by and large, they stand no chance of actually being enacted. They are just being used to set the stage for the next election cycle. Therefore, we need to be building our own infrastructure in the districts, not treating local- and state-level politics as something that we can engage in for a few months at the end of each election cycle. We need to begin our conversation with voters in the districts today.
Second, we must make clear that initiatives like wage freezes and "right to work" laws are measures that are handcrafted by the Chamber of Commerce's lobbyists. Big business is pumping huge amounts of money into the effort to attack public employees and scale back regulations, with billionaires like the Koch brothers leading the way. That is who is really behind these drives. The extent to which the right is able to frame their message as a populist one is a measure of our failure to reveal the wealthy financiers backing their agenda.
Republicans frame their proposals as policies that will "get government and unions off your back." But what is actually being created as a result? Time and time again, these policies have not led to "trickle-down" prosperity, but have taken away gains made by average Americans and given them to corporations and those at the very top. By showing the interests that stand behind each side, we must demonstrate who is really the best advocate for Main Street.
Third, we draw a line in the sand with politicians-- and demand that the president lead the way in recognizing the crisis of the middle class. Whether they have a "D" behind their name or not, politicians should not receive one penny from progressives unless they are for increasing standards of living for average people and defending their rights to organize. Unfortunately, since the Clinton years, we have elected leaders who are taking our campaign money on one day and then distancing themselves from employees' organizations and public interest groups the next. These politicians must see that this will no longer fly. They must understand that Main Street is in a fight for its life, and they must act accordingly.
In America, the pot of rampant individualism and neglect of community has been roiling at a low boil for a long time. Ultimately, we must ask as a society: Do we want to be a place where the fire department comes if we have a fire in our homes? Is this a country where you can get care when you're sick, even if you're elderly or lose your job? Is America a place where, regardless of the town or neighborhood you live in, you can send your kids to a decent public school, with qualified professionals teaching our kids? Such things are the reason we agree to pay taxes and contribute to the common good.
At the end of the day, dismantling the government and attacking public servants means undoing these things. The President will articulate his vision in this fight on Tuesday and is even backing up words with actions like the NRLB’s steps to protect organizing via majority sign-up. It’s outside of Washington where we face the eliminations of people’s ability to voluntarily come together in their workplace to have a say in the conditions of their employment. That would mean creating a country that has a huge gulf between the wealthy and everybody else. It means ending middle class America as we have known it. And that is not something we should let happen without a fight.
Blue America is high on a new, progressive young leader running for Congress in Florida's 24th congressional district, Nicholas Ruiz, who we highlighted yesterday in the debate over repealing healthcare reform. On his campaign website, Nicholas introduces himself by defining what progressive politics is all about at this juncture in time:
The Republican sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 is confirmation that the Democratic Party is at a crossroads. The Democratic electorate, uninspired by non-progressive
Democratic candidates and officials, did not show up at the polls in sufficient numbers to support them, and retain a Democratic majority in the U.S. House. Citizens that believe in a progressive agenda, are losing their enthusiasm for Democratic leaders, because too many of these leaders think and act more like the other side each day.
Progressives have to look forward. Almost everyone I met on the campaign trail that supported my platform and views-- identified themselves as a "Democrat." There is a huge independently progressive and Democratic constituency that is not being adequately represented by the Democratic Party as it stands today. Constituents on the Left are hungry for the real thing.
And his idea of the real thing is not a conservative agenda being espoused by Obama and a reactionary agenda being espoused by the Republicans and the Tea Party. Nicholas, much the way Alan Grayson did in a neighboring central Florida district, is looking outside the box for solutions to the basic problems and for directions our country needs to move. Watch this debate video from when he ran on the Green Party line. Because he's correct-- Social Security benefits need to be increased, not decreased and not kept the same, for the country to move forward. Retirement age needs to be lowered, not raised. What should be raised, are our voices, for progressive leadership. And if you like what you hear... Nicholas Ruiz is Blue America's first endorsed congressional candidate of the 2012 cycle.
UPDATE: Yes, There's A Progressive Way To Address Social Security As A Postive
I was just on the phone with Nick Ruiz. This was what he told me:
"The Social Security debacle is the perfect example of 21st century political difference in America-- the Republicans want to perpetrate a social crisis, where there is not one. The Democrats are the party of the people-- it is imperative that we remind ourselves that we have the vision to make social justice stand. It's simple: we remove the wage cap, and/or subject capital gains to a bit of FICA withholding, and/or subject property income to a bit of FICA withholding, or perhaps a bit of all three. There are other ways to get this done. It's more a matter of Republicans wrongly advocating the methodical destruction of a vital component of the U.S. Social Safety Net, whereas Democrats must work to sustain and further develop the Democratic legacy of widespread generational progress."