[Marxism] Greenwald lashes out at Obama deal offer on SS, Medicare

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Fri Jul 8 06:56:23 MDT 2011

Introductory note to Greenwald article

I think this is a good article by Greenwald, who is directing his appeals to
longtime supporters of the Democratic Party and Obama, such as himself, who
understandably feel "betrayed" by Obama's course on the deficit "fight" in
Congress, where Republican intransigence on raising the debt limit will
supposedly surely lead to the final collapse of the US and world economy,
unless Obama makes further concessions/ 


Aside from the fact that big capital knows damn well that US imperialism is
more stable than that, with all its troubles, there will certainly be a
formal registration of the fact that a new, higher debt limit is already a
reality in practice, 


I don't blame Greenwald or anyone else who feels "betrayed" by Obama but he
persistently sent signals to those who supported him who had lots of money
which were ignored by those who didn't have much money or simply had less.  


He outraised and also outspent the Republicans in 2008 - and not just from
small contributions, to put it mildly -- and shows every sign of doing so
again, barring a gigantic collapse of the economy which is not excluded but
cannot be guaranteed before November 2012, Obama is heading pretty serenely
toward re-election at this point. 


I am not sure that even an economic dive would defeat him in 2012 because I
think the top rich, in their majority, would prefer his victory as less
likely to provoke mass opposition, and view the Republicans (whom they also
fund bigtime, but so far less so) as very useful as a reactionary pressure
group, but not likely to establish a viable government.


The issue of the debt limit has been whipped up as part of the now fully
institutionalized campaign to further rip up the social "safety net," as
"social security protections have been renamed since the late 1970s. Unlike
the liberal concept of "social security," the "safety net" is increasingly
presented as un-needed aid to those who don't have what it takes to make it
in our ever-more "dynamic" and "innovative" market-capitalist society.


Today social security for working people is almost as unpopular among those
whose opinions matter today in "society" as Gadhafi is (and he has gotten
much less popular today since he refused to quit when ordered to do so) or
Saddam Hussein was.


Obama's stance toward the attack on Social Security and Medicare was
signaled by his whole course, including the way he opposed the Republican
Ryan plan to "en Medicare Ryan plan to "end Medicare as we know it"  and
ultimately Social Security> as well. Opposing this politically untenable
(but well regarded among the elites, including liberal elies) crackpot
scheme, Obama and the Democrats  prepared the ground for the "moderate,"
balanced attack on these programs.


Of course the Republicans could take a wild factional stand and not accept
anything less than their maximum program. There are signs that top
Republican leaders are reluctant to get into this position. They could lose
a lot of campaign contributions from the ruling rich, if they irreconcilably
blocked sucb an opportunity to assault working people in the name of "saving
the nation" from imminent default. Right now top Republican leaders seem
reluctant to fall into this trap.  They are already running behind Obama in
the 2012 fund-raising department, and are reluctant to make matters worse.


Obama is advancing in preparing his re-election. His moves show the ruling
rich that they can use the Republicans as a pressure group, but only Obama
can actually deliver the goods in a way that can be sold to voters and
working people in particular.. He is assuring himself massive campaign
contributions from the rich, who will continue to support the Republicans as
a right-wing yelling and screaming pressure group but they can count on
Obama to give them as much as they could really expect under the


Will the Bush tax cuts ever be allowed to lapse? At the current rate, not in
our lifetime (which, lets face it, doesn't amount to much). But things could
and may well change more rapidly than we can easily imagine at present.


Everything depends on the development of the class struggle  as the heart
and soul of the broader social struggles as well including conflicts over
the affects on human beings of savage budget cuts.


Such struggles will never really be about taxes and what to do about
deficits, matters in which basically working people have little or no stake.

Fred Feldman



Thursday, Jul 7, 2011 08:08 ET 


Obama pushing for cuts to Social Security, Medicare 

By Glenn Greenwald 


For months, the standard narrative among progressive commentators was that
Republicans were outrageously exploiting the debt ceiling deadline to impose
drastic entitlement cuts on a resisting and victimized Democratic President
(he's weak in negotiations!), but The Post article makes clear that the
driving force behind these cuts is the President himself, who is pushing for
even larger spending cuts than the GOP was ready to accept:


President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching
debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to
Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh
tax revenue. . . . As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant
reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle
the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with
knowledge of the proposal. The move marks a major shift for the White House
and could present a direct challenge to Democratic lawmakers who have vowed
to protect health and retirement benefits from the assault on government



Continue reading

This morning's New York Times article similarly makes clear that it is the
President who is demanding an even larger "deficit reduction" package than
has previously been discussed.  Headlined "Obama to Push for Wider Deal With
G.O.P. on Deficit Cuts," the article reports that "President Obama has
raised his sights and wants to strike a far-reaching agreement on cutting
the federal deficit" and that he "wants to move well beyond the $2 trillion
in savings sought in earlier negotiations and seek perhaps twice as much
over the next decade."  This is all in pursuit of "an agreement that ma[kes]
substantial spending cuts, including in such social programs as Medicare and
Medicaid and Social Security -- programs that had been off the table."  The
President, as part of the package, is reportedly seeking some elimination of
modest tax "loopholes" that benefit wealthy Americans to claim, absurdly,
that there is "balanced" sacrifice.


It's true that these articles rely upon anonymous sources, though multiple
such sources close to the negotiations -- from both parties -- are cited in
consensus about what is taking place, and there are numerous other reports
entirely consistent with these.  It's been bleedingly obvious for some time
that the bipartisan D.C. political class and the economic factions that own
it have been intent on massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare -- see
George Carlin's 2007 video explanation below -- but the combination of
deficit hysteria (repeatedly bolstered by Obama) and the manufactured debt
ceiling deadline has, by design, created the perfect pretext to enable this
now.  As one "Democratic official" told the Post: "These moments come along
at most once a decade. And it would be a real mistake if we let it pass us
by."  Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine is not a GOP-exclusive dynamic.


How many people who voted for Obama in 2008 would have expected a headline
like this a short two-and-a-half years later?  Many more than should have.
As Matt Taibbi explains in trumpeting Frank Rich's superb new New York
article detailing Obama's subservience to Wall Street: 



Throughout 2008, it was hard to shake the feeling that this was a politician
whose legacy could still go either way. There were an awful lot of troubling
signs on the horizon in Obama's campaign, not the least of which being the
enthusiastic support he was receiving from Wall Street.


Obama in part ran a very slightly economically populist campaign, but the
tens of millions pouring into his campaign coffers from the very rich (and
specifically from hedge funds) told all of us that we probably shouldn't
expect those promises to come off. For a piece I wrote that summer, I asked
people in Washington why Wall Street would be throwing money at a guy who
was out there on the stump pledging to reach into their pockets:


"Sadly, the answer to that question increasingly appears to be that Obama
is, well, full of shit. . . . These populist pledges sound good, but many
business moguls appear to be betting that the tax policies, like Obama
himself, are only that: something that sounds good. 'I think we don't want
to make too much of his promises on taxes,' says Robert Pollin, professor of
economics at the University of Massachusetts. 'Not all of these things will
happen.' Noting the overwhelming amount of Wall Street money pouring into
Obama's campaign, even elitist fuckwad David Brooks was recently moved to
write, "Once the Republicans are vanquished, I wouldn't hold your breath
waiting for that capital-gains tax hike."


Disgustingly, Brooks turned out to be right, and the narrative of the Obama
presidency did end up turning sour, on that front anyway.



When I first began writing about politics in late 2005, the standard liberal
blogosphere critique -- one I naively believed back then -- was that
Democrats were capitulating so continuously to the Bush agenda because they
"lacked spine" and were inept political strategists: i.e., they found those
policies so very offensive but were simply unwilling or unable to resist
them.  It became apparent to me that this was little more than a
self-soothing conceit: Democrats continuously voted for Bush policies
because they were either indifferent to their enactment or actively
supported them, and were owned and controlled by the same factions as the


Now, Democratic commentators -- mostly the President's most hardened
loyalists -- continue to invoke this "he's-weak-and-inept" excuse for Obama,
but the evidence is far too abundant to sustain it any longer.  As Paul
Krugman -- long more clear-eyed than most progressives about Obama --
explained this week:



Since Obama keeps talking nonsense about economics, at what point do we stop
giving him credit for actually knowing better? Maybe at some point we have
to accept that he believes what he's saying. . . . , here's an
unprofessional speculation: maybe it's personal. Maybe the president just
doesn't like the kind of people who tell him counterintuitive things, who
say that the government is not like a family, that it's not right for the
government to tighten its belt when Americans are tightening theirs, that
unemployment is not caused by lack of the right skills. Certainly just about
all the people who might have tried to make that argument have left the
administration or are leaving soon.


And what's left, I'm afraid, are the Very Serious People. It looks as if
those are the people the president feels comfortable with. And that, of
course, is a tragedy.



I think Krugman's "personal" explanation -- that Obama is far more
comfortable with "neo-liberal centrists" (i.e., corporatists) than with
actual liberals -- is basically true (Frank Rich put it this way:  "For all
the lurid fantasies of the birthers, the dirty secret of Obama's background
is that the values of Harvard, not of Kenya or Indonesia or Bill Ayers, have
most colored his governing style. He falls hard for the best and the
brightest white guys").  But it's also about ideology, conviction, and
self-interest: Obama both believes in the corporatist agenda he embraces and
assesses it to be in his political interest to be associated with it.  If it
means "painful" entitlement cuts for ordinary Americans at a time of massive
unemployment, economic anxiety and exploding wealth inequality, so be it.


Krugman understandably describes this dynamic in the context of the debt
battle because that's the area on which he focuses most, but this is the
same exact dynamic that drives the Obama presidency in almost every realm.
In the context of foreign policy and civil liberties, the public-private
National Security State (the "Fourth Branch" of Government) is his Wall
Street; military and intelligence officials and defense contractors are his
Geithner/Summers/Dimon; and endless embrace of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism
template of militarism and civil liberties assaults is his cutting of Social
Security and Medicare.  This is who Barack Obama is; it's what drives his
presidency in every realm, not just in economic policy.


What's particularly revealing in the Social Security/Medicare assault is the
political calculation.  The President obviously believes that being able to
run by having made his own party angry -- I cut entitlement programs long
cherished by liberals -- will increase his appeal to independents and
restore his image of trans-partisan conciliator that he so covets.  But how
could it possibly be politically advantageous for a Democratic President to
lead the way in slashing programs that have long been the crown jewels of
his party, defense of which is the central litmus test for whether someone
is even a Democrat?  The answer lies in how lacking in credibility is this
statement, from The New York Times:



"Depending on what they decide to recommend, they may not have Democrats,"
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said in an interview.
"I think it is a risky thing for the White House to basically take the bet
that we can be presented with something at the last minute and we will go
for it."


There's nothing "risky" about that.  Of course enough Democrats will get in
line behind Obama's proposal to pass it once they're told they must.
Similarly, those progressive commentators who are first and foremost
Democratic loyalists -- who rose up in angry and effective unison (along
with actual progressives) to prevent George Bush from privatizing Social
Security in 2005 -- will mount no meaningful opposition out of fear of
weakening the President's political prospects.  White House aides will just
utter Michele Bachmann enough times like some magical spell and snap more
than enough people into fear-induced compliance.  The last thing the White
House is worried about -- the last thing -- is its "base."


This was the primary lesson from the health care fight.  Obama loyalists who
maligned anyone who resisted that bill always misunderstood the point.  It
was never about the substantive belief in what became the very weak "public
option" provision: at least not primarily.  Instead, it was about political


Congressional Democrats began the health care debate by categorically vowing
-- in writing, by the dozens -- never to support any health care bill that
did not contain a public option (on the ground that it would be little more
than a boon to -- an entrenchment of -- the private health insurance
industry).  But once they all abandoned that pledge when told that doing so
was necessary to be good, loyal Democrats, it was clear from that point
forward that they could be ignored.  They had no willingness to exercise
political power; their partisan loyalty trumped any alleged convictions;
their negotiation positions were silly bluffs; and they could always be
counted on to snap dutifully into line at the end no matter how much their
values were stomped on (and that debate followed the same template as the
deficit battle: the White House publicly pretending to advocate for a public
option while leading the way in private to ensure it never happened).


Obama knows full well that he can slash Medicare, Medicaid and even Social
Security -- just like he could sign an extension of Bush tax cuts, escalate
multiple wars, and embrace the Bush/Cheney Terrorism template recently known
in Democratic circles as "shredding the Constitution" -- and have most
Democrats and progressives continue to support him anyway.  Unconditional
support ensures political impotence, and rightly so.  He's attending to the
constituencies that matter: mostly, Wall Street tycoons who funded his 2008
campaign and whom he hopes will fund his re-election bid, and independents
whose support is in question.  And he's doing that both because it's in his
perceived interest and because, to the extent he believes in anything, those
are the constituencies with which he feels most comfortable.




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