By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Follow Gaius on Twitter: @gaius_publius. Originally published at AMERICAblog.
Most left-side commenters paint “Fix the Debt” — the well-funded campaign to scare Americans into believing the debt is not only going to destroy us all, but that massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are the only way to “fix” the “problem” — as a billionaire-led, CEO-led operation to kill (or at least seriously maim) the social programs by delivering one blow after another. But Fix the Debt is also a bipartisan operation.
This is about bipartisanship — real bipartisanship, bipartisanship in the bad way. In a recent post about how the American people overwhelmingly want to strengthen Social Security (and the rest of the social programs), I made the following point about “centrism“:
People who perform on TV are fond of talking about the “centrist” position, or the “bipartisan consensus” on various economic matters. This presumes a vertical left-right divide with some kind of center between them.
The real divide in this country is not Left versus Right — it’s the Rich versus the Rest. It’s the horizontal division between the people taking all the money they can, and those they’re taking it from.
Among the rich, there’s a widely-agreed center position — more for us, less for everyone else on the planet.
As the poll above makes very clear, there’s also a widely-agreed center position among the rest of us — keep your stinking hands off of our last protection against poverty.
Keep that horizontal division in mind as you look at what follows. The left-right divide among the elites, the 1%, is usually represented as Democratic vs. Republican. But that’s only true among the electorate, and then only on some issues. As the following shows very clearly, the leadership of both parties is deeply in bed with the Billionaire push — fronted by Pete Peterson — to kill off the social programs.
There’s a true bipartisan consensus among billionaire-backed Democrats and billionaire-backed Republicans — “All your money are belong to us.”
Fix the Debt is a true bipartisan operation
Take a look at the great research done on “Fix the Debt” by the true-progressive watchdog group SourceWatch and PRwatch, the good folks who brought you ALECexposed.
From their new Fix the Debt portal, we find this about Fix the Debt and its leadership (my emphasis everywhere and some reparagraphing):
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest incarnation of a decades-long effort by former Nixon man turned Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare under the guise of fixing the nation’s “debt problem.” Through a special report and new interactive wiki resource, the Center for Media and Democracy — in partnership with the Nation magazine — exposes the funding, the leaders, the partner groups, and the phony state “chapters” of this astroturf supergroup. Learn more at PetersonPyramid.org and in the Nation magazine.
Fix the Debt is led by the president of the CRFB, Maya MacGuineas. Erskine Bowles, and Alan Simpson are listed as its “founders.” Michael Bloomberg, Judd Gregg, and Ed Rendell are listed as its “co-chairs.” There is an 11 member steering committee. …
Ed Rendell is a co-chairman of Fix the Debt. In media appearances, he is only introduced as the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania (2003-2011), yet he has extensive corporate and financial ties.
A fine mix of perps. Erskine Bowles is a Clinton man. Bowles and Simpson are Obama men, hand-picked by our president to lead his personal “fix the debt” commission, aka the Catfood Commission. Judd Gregg was the Republican that Obama wanted to install in his first-term cabinet as Secretary of Big Money. (Scorecard note: When you hear Simpson–Bowles, you should see Barack Obama. In my mind, they are his surrogates, his water-carriers, just as he and Bill Clinton are Pete Peterson’s water-carriers.)
Finally, Ed Rendell is not a liberal, but he plays one on TV, thanks to the always generous face-time offered him by MSNBC’s supposed liberal program hosts. More on Rendell’s corporate ties and conflicts of interest below.
Other Democrats running Peterson’s Fix the Debt
We also find these Democrats involved with Fix the Debt (from the same source):
Phil Bredesen is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. As Democratic governor of Tennessee, he “presided over the largest state cutback of public health programs in the history of our nation,” according to health care advocacy group FamiliesUSA. In 2004, Governor Bredesen did away with Tennessee’s state health care program, TennCare, and reverted to standard Medicaid, eliminating coverage for 430,000 people, and imposted [sic] strict limits on prescription drugs and doctor visits, with no appeals. This resulted in budget surpluses.
Vic Fazio is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He is a former [Democratic] member of Congress (1979-1999) who works as a corporate lobbyist. He has lobbied for AT&T, Corrections Corporation of America, Archer Daniels Midland, Shell Oil, Blumberg Capital, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, and Waste Management.
Sam Nunn is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He was the longtime [Democratic] chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee (1987–1995). He is Co-Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), an organization working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Steven Rattner is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He is a former investment banker for two decades at Lehman Brothers, Lazard Freres and Morgan Stanley. Rattner was the Treasury Department’s point man on the 2009 bailout of the auto industry by the Obama administration. He is on the board of the New America Foundation, the Pete Peterson-funded parent organization of Fix the Debt and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). Rattner is also chairman of Willett Advisors LLC, the investment arm for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $25 billion in assets.
Rattner’s wife also has strong ties to the leadership of the Democratic Party:
Rattner is married to Maureen White, who served for five years as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and is now the Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues to the Special Representative-Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. Department of State.
Yet more Democrats on the Fix the Debt steering committee:
Alice Rivlin is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. She is best known for her role as budget director in the Clinton administration (1994-1996). She has deep ties to the finance industry and to budget austerity advocacy groups funded by Pete Peterson. A former vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board (1996-1999) … Rivlin … was also a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission … where she voted for Simpson and Bowles’ recommended $200 billion annual cuts in discretionary spending, raising of the Social Security retirement age, cutting the federal workforce by ten percent, and reducing federal pensions and student loan subsidies.
Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who has been Los Angeles’ 41st mayor since July 1, 2005, is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee. He was President of the United States Conference of Mayors in 2011-2012. He has previously been the Democratic leader and Speaker of the California State Assembly and a member of the Los Angeles City Council. He was also Chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September 2012.
In the past, he was a union organizer for the Service Employees International Union and United Teachers Los Angeles, and then President of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Federation of Government Employees.
And that just takes you down through the steering committee. That’s some load of big-time Dems.
Fix the Debt and corruption
One more point needs to be made. Many (or most) of these individuals have big-time conflicts of interest. Again, these are documented by Source Watch. Just one example, there’s this about Ed Rendell’s “extensive corporate and financial ties” mentioned above:
UNDISCLOSED CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Rendell lobbied for KCI USA, a wound care technology company, on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in 2012. Rendell is special counsel to the law firm Ballard Spahr – which has been criticized as a union-busting law firm. – where he focuses on privatization and housing, with an emphasis on infrastructure. Rendell is also a senior adviser at Greenhill & Co., a multinational investment bank. Ninety percent of Greenhill’s revenue comes from advisory assignments, including to public officials.
Rendell is a strong proponent of “public private partnerships” (PPPs) in infrastructure, which have been criticized as a dubious form of privatization of public assets. Rendell is also on the advisory board of Verdeva, a firm developing technology to track motorists at the gas pump so they can be taxed for infrastructure revenue, an industry-favored measure for developing the income streams they need to finance infrastructure deals. Hel [sic] has also joined the venture capital firm Element Partners as an operating partner. Element Partners recently invested in oil and gas extraction (fracking) from the Marcellus formation.
Ed Rendell is the servant of Money. He works for Money; he does its bidding; that’s his career path and the source of his personal income stream. Fix the Debt is a perfect way to starve the beast (government) then sell it public-private fixes, like Obama’s health care bill, and Ed Rendell is perfectly placed to both wield the axe (via Fix the Debt) and salve the wound he caused (via his corporate-solutions lobbying).
There’s more about the many conflicts of interest in this handy table. Stunning, and a fast read. Do take a look.
This is what “starve the beast” looks like from the “left”
One last word and then I’ll close. Both parties want to starve the beast — underfund government so drastically that it can’t function alone. Both parties want to privatize public services. I was not joking, or being excessively snarky, when I wrote that the Democrats are every bit as evil as the Republicans when it comes to economic policy.
■ From the Republicans you get blatant privatization, such as Bush’s 2005 attack on Social Security or Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan.
■ From the Democrats, you get back-door privatization, like Obama’s Health Care act. Ask yourself — why didn’t Obama just offer a bill that expanded Medicare to everyone in the country? Answer: Because he wanted to shovel money into corporate (meaning, billionaire CEO) hands with a “public-private solution” to a public policy problem. This is always the Neoliberal “solution” — starve the government along with the Republicans, then sell public-private “deals” that screw the public while offering pretend or partial solutions.
The difference? Republicans don’t want to offer any solutions to public needs, while Democrats will offer pretend or partial solutions — ‘cuz you know, they’re the party that cares. Yep, that’s branding; that’s their product differentiator. It’s not that all elected Democrats don’t care, it’s just that their leaders don’t, and elected Democrats always play Follow the Neoliberal Leader when it comes time to vote.
Don’t believe me? Think about that crappy filibuster deal, which every Democratic senator vote for. Or watch those 100 Democrats who signed Keith Ellison’s sequester “no cuts” letter when they have to pull their grown-up pants on at Congressional roll-call time.
Notice that I didn’t say “from the Right” and “from the Left” in the above formulation. Democratic Party leaders — who own the total party structure, progressives and all — are not the “left.” They aren’t even Democrats by FDR–Lyndon Johnson standards. Today’s Dem leaders are “neo-Dems,” meaning not-Dems, in the same way that “New Labour” in Britain is not-Labour. They’re just the opposite, in fact; they’re the Right, dressed for bicoastal dinner.
To call Barack Obama a Democrat in his economic policies is a triumph of branding … only.
To make that point, I’d like to leave you with two videos. The first you’ve seen before, but I want to keep it before you. Barack Obama 1.0, branded for easy consumption:
Note that the branding was done for free, and by someone who truly believed — just like many progressive activists do today, I might add.
The next video includes the above-mentioned Alice Rivlin, shilling to “youth” about Fix the Debt and all the goodness it offers them. Yep, that’s her in the center, rocking up a storm, just like the “kids”:
They may be a clown car, those happy bipartisans, but they’re extremely well funded.
Did both videos make you gag, just a little? They should have, just a little. (And yes, that was a test. The taste in your mouth will tell you your score.)