Gaius Publius: Are Democrats who Propose Cuts to Social Security “Stupid” or Just Doing Risk-Analysis?

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Originally published at AmericaBlog

This is part editorial, and part analysis of my own. The kickoff point relates to Social Security, but it also relates to a whole set of similar unpopular, unpopulist proposals.

Let’s start here. I frequently read statements like these:

How can Democrats be so stupid? Don’t they realize that when they agree with Republicans about cutting Social Security (or whatever), they’ll still get attacked by Republicans for … cutting Social Security? How dumb is that? When will they learn?

This has been happening recently, in fact, on just the issue above. Buzzfeed:

Republicans Now Attacking Florida Democrat For Supporting Simpson-Bowles

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has taken an odd course in the Florida special election to replace Republican Rep. Bill Young after his death in October of last year: The NRCC is bashing Democratic candidate Alex Sink for supporting Simpson-Bowles, a deficit reduction plan Republicans most often attack President Obama for abandoning or ignoring.

ClassWarKitteh_catfood“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love,” Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC said, according to the Sunshine State News. “Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”

The list of Republicans who have praised, cited, or attack Obama for ignoring Simpson-Bowles is long.

“Simpson-Bowles” is the informal name for the Catfood Commission chairmen’s report. Florida Republicans who formerly supported the Simpson-Bowles recommendations are accusing Democrat Alex Sink of supporting … Simpson-Bowles, ’cause, Catfood.

Smart move on the Repubs part. But is it a dumb move on the Dems part, in general, to do otherwise? Candidate Sink talks about cutting Social Security because she believes it (possibly); because her “professional consultants” tell her to say it (probably); because the Dem–funding class, the Robert Rubins and their ilk, insist on it (certainly).

So is that “stupid” or something else?

My personal belief is that the “how stupid are they” comments offer a great deal of undeserved ground cover for Dem misdeeds, and shield them from being held responsible for what they may actually be doing, something much worse. Let’s look at that.

Are Democrats “Stupid” — or Something Else — When They Risk Election by Promoting Anti-Populist Messages?

It’s clear that reducing Social Security benefits, like other anti-populist (and unpopular) proposals, poses a risk to election outcomes. Just look at the case of Ms. Sink, who might lose her bid in Florida. Or, in fact, President Obama, who tried all through his first term to grand-bargain his way to a set of benefit cuts. That could have cost him big in 2012.

So why do they make these proposals, these benefit-cutting Democrats? And while we’re asking, why do they keep offering these NAFTA-style trade agreements, when in fact, the whole country now knows how bad they are for us ordinary people?

To answer those questions, I think we have to consider the world from Robert Rubin’s point of view, and that of his friends in the billionaire class. And to do that, I’d like to offer a short history lesson.

American “Free-Marketeers” left the Democratic Party in the 1930s, and Then Came Back

Let’s posit that the billionaires of both parties have many cultural differences, but one main common interest — money and power. Back before FDR, “free-marketism” and “liberalism” (now called “classic liberalism”) were the same thing — “liberation” of markets from government interference. That’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. For more than a century prior to FDR, “liberalism” and “free market ideology” were identical. This goes way back, deep into the 1700s. (I wrote about that here.)

FDR re-introduced a needed role for government regulation of markets in order to stave off what could have been popular revolt during the Depression. That semi-anathema offshoot of classic liberalism came to be called simply “liberalism” in the U.S., but in fact it was “social liberalism,” a variant, a side path (now called “socialism” in Europe).

Because pre-FDR liberalism had as its gospel, zero interference from government in markets, the Democrats’ pro-government heresy had the effect of moving most of the free-marketeers into the Republican party, and at the same time, taking away their former name (“liberal”). Things stayed this way until the 1970s.

Fast forward to the beginning of the effort to kill the FDR revolution, the Carter years and after. Troglodyte (knuckle-dragging, John Birch Society) free-market billionaires stayed in the Republican Party, their natural cultural home. But because of the increased interest in “deregulation” by Carter and the Democrats, the more open-minded of the moneyed class (those who hated gays less, for example, or believed in some civil rights) returned to the Democratic Party as “neo-liberals” — which actually means its opposite. They were “new liberals” only from an FDR point of view. They were actually “old liberals,” classic free-market liberals from pre-Depression days.

Al From and Bill Clinton fronted for them politically when they built the DLC, but it was a billionaire op all the way. (For a great exposé of this by Rick Perlstein, click and read here. The birth of the DLC and the rise of the neoliberal Democrats is a fascinating story.)

So now the free-market strain of billionaires, which is actually a “we want to control markets for our benefit” strain, is rampant in both parties. It’s a deep strain in the billionaire class, on all sides of the social spectrum, and as I say, it goes back before Jeremy Bentham.

There’s a perfect expression of that here, in a speech given by new-Senator Barack Obama to a founding meeting of a Robert Rubin think tank dedicated to advancing neoliberal goals via the Democratic Party.

What you’re seeing is former Clinton Treasury Secretary multi-millionaire Robert Rubin (“Bob” in Obama’s intro), the self-interested front man for his “enlightened” band of millionaires and billionaires, hosting a gathering that makes the same pitch for free-markets and austerity that the Republican-aligned billionaires are making. Why the benefit cuts? Because it frees up more money to scoop up. That’s why they want to kill pension funds as well.

Bottom line — This is in their historical and personal blood, and it’s also in their self-interest. It’s what almost all billionaires and their enablers want. (And if you haven’t figured it out yet, the writer Masaccio has figured it out for you — there are no free markets and never will be. All markets are rigged by the rules that regulate them. Guess who regulates today’s “free” markets?)

So What’s the Electoral Calculation on the Democratic Side?

Which brings us to why the Rubins and the Clintons and the Obamas — and whoever is financing campaigns for the Alex Sinks of the world — are apparently willing to look “stupid” to make these destructive neoliberal, unpopular, anti-populist proposals. If I’m Robert Rubin or someone in his position (there are many), I’d figure it like this:

If the Republicans offer “free markets” and racism, and I offer “free markets” and far friendlier social politics, I can still win the White House most of the time. (The White House is where the power and money are, money I can dole out to my friends via gifts and appointments.)

So whenever someone in my base says, “But wait … I don’t want the billionaires and bankers to win and skate free. I don’t want bailouts and “free trade” agreements. I don’t want benefit cuts. Also, jobs!” — I immediately reply, “Really? So you want Chris Christie? Mitt Romney? Rush Limbaugh to run the country? You just had Bush because you messed up and weren’t loyal enough.”

“Line up, son, or take the blame,” they say. And they mean it. And in fact, most do line up; daughters and sons alike. Some do not, of course, and some just stay home, bored and sick with the lack of real choice. Sure that diminishes the Democratic vote total, but if they win the White House by +3% instead of +10%, so what? They still win.

And for them, when it comes to the general election, if the choice is between two free-marketeers anyway, so what? Rubin doesn’t suffer when Bush is in office, nor does anyone he hangs with. He and his friends still get their factories in China, and they still get the strongest stock market the Fed can deliver. They suffer all the way to the bank, count their cash, wait for the next electoral round, and try again. Most of the real pain is felt by those below, by the failed electeds, and by us.

So that’s the calculation, and it’s based on, yes, triangulation and the squeeze play. They triangulate and the base gets squeezed. True, there’s a slightly greater risk of losing the White House than if they propose truly progressive, truly popular policies. But there’s no price to them personally for losing, and they’ll win most of the time anyway, especially in this era of shifting demographics. It’s a relatively low-risk, high-reward strategy, based on this calculation.

So they take the risk. This is my speculative thinking, my explanation, but I don’t think I’m wrong. Frankly, if I were evil in a Robert Rubin / hedge-fund billionaire way, I’d do this 10 times out of 10. Win or lose, I’m still in France half the time anyway, when I’m not at St. Andrews with David Koch, or counting my cash on my yacht.

The Real Risk to “Free Market” Billionaires is from the Populist Left

By this calculation, the real price to be paid by the Rubins, their enablers and their beneficiaries, would only come if an actual FDR–type (or an emboldened Elizabeth Warren–type) got into the White House. That would present a problem. She’d have to be dealt with. Much better to never let her get close. For me, this explains the Rubin–Obama disdain for the actual left; and as you know, Rubin and Obama are not alone. The populist left is the real direction of danger to all these people, so they shed the actual left like flies and cling to more like-minded candidates.

Naturally there’s a risk with this strategy. Consider the 2012 presidential election. That 4% popular vote differential was not much of a margin, and if Romney hadn’t become “Mr. 47%” in most people’s eyes, it’s conceivable he could have pulled closer. But there’s just no way the Rubins and the hedgies and all their minions are going to allow an anti-billionaire “Warren populist” into the general election. They have to stick with a free-market type.

So the very best they can hope for is a newbie who can lie, pretend to be something he’s not, a man or woman without a track record. (Remind you of someone? Obama in 2008, Kid “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”?) That brings out the Hopeful and swells the numbers. Otherwise they just have to go with what’s available and roll the dice. By 2012 no one was Hoping, certainly not in great numbers, not after four years of Grand Bargains and promises betrayed (do click; it’s a stunning list). Many were just voting not-Romney, those who voted at all.

So yes, there’s some risk to this neoliberal calculation and strategy. In 2012 they took the risk and it paid off, in a 4% popular vote victory. Could the strategy still lose occasionally? Yes, but again, given the demographics and with appropriate pushback in the states, it’s increasingly less likely.

And even if it does produce a loss, consider the alternative from the Rubin side of things. What do you do? (1) Put a real FDR in the White House and let him challenge the whole billionaire system, or (2) risk having to count your money in electoral exile for a just few years, then try again?

I don’t see the Rubins of the world ever making the first choice. And I do think they’ve really thought this through. To return to where we started, very few of these men and women are stupid.

Side thought — Keep the above in mind when scoping out the 2016 race. We have a neoliberal front-runner with a track record and an unwillingness to speak on most issues. Where’s the turnout going to come from?

Mes centimes.

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  1. Hans Suter

    Obama says:” “there are poeple whose jobs got eliminated… lost health care …lost retirement security ….and have lost a clear sense of how their children will succeed in the same way they have succeeded.” Succeeded, how so ?

  2. Hugh

    This is a post that is restating the lesser of two evils dynamic. What we need to understand is that we are not dealing with the lesser of two evils but rather complementary evils. The first thing we need to do is to stop voting for any Democrat or any Republican ever again. Voting for either is to play their game, a game that some 80%-99% of us are guaranteed to lose.

    The poster shows his own limitations by confining populism to FDR or an “emboldened” Elizabeth Warren. FDR very much pursued populist policies not to bury capitalism but to save it. And the moment he thought the immediate threat was past he backtracked throwing the country again into depression in 1937. And you would have to be on drugs to think that Warren would ever even begin to come up to FDR’s level. If you want some populist precursors that would cause the rich and elites to shit themselves, how about Huey Long and “Share the Wealth”? That is a slogan that is resonating better all the time nowadays. Consider the lengths the Establishment has gone to trash Long personally and marginalize his ideas, a debauched conman leading on a bunch of uncouth yahoos. Others could probably comment on the American Communist party before it became a creature of the Comintern. The point here is that our elites, both conservative and liberal, had a vested interest in portraying the various manifestations of populism in the 1930s as evil, stupid, and above all extreme. In light of current events, I think it behooves us to go back and revisit the history of populism in America, to reclaim it and learn from it how it was so often co-opted and destroyed.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘The first thing we need to do is to stop voting for any Democrat or any Republican ever again.’

      AMEN, brother Hugh! I took that pledge a dozen years ago.

      In his book Indispensable Enemies, Walter Karp explained in detail how the D and R parties collaborate to maintain their status quo, anti-reform duopoly. It is pure fantasy to think that a candidate from either branch of the duopoly would seek to overturn the tables of the political money changers (and money printers).

      Efamol. For what ails us.

    2. Banger

      For those of us interested in change and who are on the left (what’s left of it) need to stop funding with the politics of Empire and elections. What we need to do is deconstruct the narrative a bit as Oliver Stone has done in his Untold History series. Retelling the history of left-populism in the U.S. or even the history of labor needs to be done over and over again because we face the problem of the control by the oligarchs of what is covered in high schools and universities, the media both news and entertainment tends to promote a demonstrably false narrative.

      We should start with American Exceptionalism which infects all sides of the political spectrum. Witness the obsequious attitudes of “liberals” on the military (because they know, cynically, that the public loves the people in uniform because they believe they are the only public servants that have the mentality of “serving”). The left continues to believe that conspiracies don’t happen in this country and the ruling elites may cheat here and there and tell lies but they would never stoop to killing anyone or really become true Machiavellian politicians.

    3. Jackrabbit

      It may be a restatement but it is a crucially important point.

      Obama and the neolibs ‘won’ thru stealth and attacking conscientious objectors with this ‘lesser of two evils’ argument.

      The left/progressives are still struggling with a response. There really hasn’t been any major repudiation of Obama and neo-lib shrills (only a few bloggers and progressive personalities that are little-known in the mainstream). Anyone that argues for such repudiation is painted as a ‘moralist’/dreamer/biggot/etc.

      Unfortunately, good-natured “bleeding hearts” on the left are susceptible to the ‘lesser evil’ argument and many current and potential progressive leaders are compromised by their Democratic Party connections/affiliations.

      What is required, really, is an abolitionist type of movement that raises certain issues above politics. Hugh hints at such when he asks “what type of society do we want’ and the Skunk Party seemed like a good candidate for such a movement.

      1. washunate

        “…an abolitionist type of movement…”

        I think ending the drug war is one of the biggest points of leverage on that front. It deals with the broad assault on constitutional governance and rule of law in a concrete way that has shone quite a bit of light over the years on the nature of the Democratic leadership.

        I would like to say prosecuting financial fraud and prisoner abuse would be another good one, but a lot of liberals are still almost subconsciously wedded to this notion that when push comes to shove, we need the banksters and the national security state.

    4. washunate

      Well said again Hugh. I think that’s the strategic question that all the other distractions are trying to obfuscate. Can the Democratic party be reclaimed in some fashion to offer an actual alternative set of governing philosophies, or is it going to collapse? If the latter really is what’s in store, then the transition period could be pretty dicey.

      1. j gibbs

        I have claimed since 1965 that it is necessary for true progressives to boycott the Democratic Party. I am aware of only one person who has consistently done that, and I don’t expect to be eligible to vote in too many more elections.

    5. aronblue

      Hugh, I think you make some really valid points about 1930s populism. I recently read Studs Terkel’s Hard Times and it was the most enlightening book– I can’t recommend it enough, though I suppose many have already read it. Yes, Huey Long was astonishing, and of course, the popular agitation among senior citizens that created social security was thrilling to learn about. I actually was so inspired by the story of the foreclosed farmers who almost hung a judge that I wrote a song about it.

      Unfortunately, the non-left populist movements in our history are tainted with vicious tribalism. That’s why I don’t see the post as being trapped in a democrat-republican lesser-of-two-evils mindset. No one wants to lose the gains that have been made towards a more egalitarian society, and so the wish is for a more emboldened Elizabeth Warren. I do agree that a study of 1930s populism will expand our ideas of what is possible– Warren is not the only model that we can build on and improve.

      And just for the record, I’m a strict 3rd party voter.

      1. j gibbs

        I haven’t heard a peep out of Warren since she got herself into the Senate. What has she done to enjoy all this adulation?

  3. 12312399

    “Keep the above in mind when scoping out the 2016 race. We have a neoliberal front-runner with a track record and an unwillingness to speak on most issues. ”

    Ugg. HR Clinton plays exactly out of the Clinton I/Obama triangulation playbook. Talk middle class/working class in the primaries, then channel the inner Alan Greenspan when in office—while veering left occasionally when your poll numbers drop.

    barring the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge visiting HRC, the future of the middle class absolutely depends on HRC losing as social security cuts will be on the table.

    not to mention that Hillary Clinton is more hawkish/interventionist than the average GOPer.

    1. j gibbs

      If you put HRC in the White House she will probably steal the rest of the silver and glassware and maybe the furniture too. Count everything before election day!

  4. Dan Kervick

    The financial capitalists have always, always, always hated Social Security, because it is a direct, unmediated transfer from the young to the old from which capital is unable to take a cut.

    From their self-interested point of view, that is a massive loss of potential profit. It is also a loss of potential stock market demand, which would otherwise help to drive up prices of existing market shares.

    From an ideological point of view, it is an ineffective use of national income, which in their view should always be pumped through the financial system so that it can be used to finance growth. It also builds a social contract and sense of mutual obligation and solidarity among citizens. That spirit is dangerous to the survival of American consumerist capitalism and its cult of the self-supporting, self-regarding individual. If Americans successfully socialize retirement support, who knows what else they will want to socialize? Health? Banking itself?

    Many Democratic politicians know nothing about these matters. If you have spent your career on local and state issues advancing gay rights or women’s rights, or reforming schools, or shaking money out of Washington for community development, what do you know about high finance, the national economy and the big money? A beltway party operative tells you what the national agenda is and you follow.

    Also, when Big Labor died, the Democratic Party had to find another powerful source of support to remain viable within the US power structure. They turned to Wall Street. Wall Street wanted deregulation, liberalization and privatization, but they often preferred to get it from Democrats because the Republicans base of redneck racism, isolationism and general backwardness is not really compatible with go-go laisse faire capitalism and its drives.

    But the Third Way Democrats who gradually captured the party in the late seventies, eighties and nineties are true believers. In their view, “government” is a synonym for “inefficient” and “private” is a synonym for “efficient”. They truly believe that government spending, especially deficit spending crowds and healthy economic activity and puts Soviet-style bureaucratic stagnation in its place. In their own view of themselves, they are heroes for having the political courage to buck popular preferences and do what needs to be done.

    The long-term goal for Social Security is to shrink it by bits over time so that it becomes a politically neutralized poor people’s assistance program, and everyone else is on the private retirement system.

  5. David Lentini

    Great post; something I’ve been arguing with my Dem. friends for years now, trying to get them to turn Green.

    I think you could have added one more point. Right or Left, the rich don’t have to care about social liberalism. Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, her spouse, and their adopted child will never have to worry about job or housing discrimination, their physical security, or shopping in Arizona. They’re rich; they can do what they want because they’re rich. And notice how little heat Cheney took from the Bible Belt, Fox, and the rest of the Morally Correct for his daughter’s “lifestyle”. Had this been about an average citizen, the outrage would have been quite loud.

    1. Vatch

      Hi David,

      “something I’ve been arguing with my Dem. friends for years now, trying to get them to turn Green.”

      In the last election, I tried to convince my Democratic family and friends to vote for the Green candidate Stein, and my Republican family and friends to vote for the Libertarian candidate. I don’t think I was able to convince a single person to switch.

  6. Banger

    I love this post! Well stated and argued in my view, though I understand where Hugh objects a bit. Americans, both on the left and right, live in mythological frameworks increasingly distinguished by fantasies. The actual political situation at any level but the very local is largely unknown by the vast majority. The mainstream media has turned, largely, into one big Ministry of Truth–coverage of major international events reflect the consensus of the foreign policy elite and not real reporting. The riots in Kiev are a case and point and shown to be brave freedom fighters (for the IMF) against a brutal dictatorship (never mentioning that there are free elections in Ukraine). Almost every international event is slanted in that way as a fight of “good guys” against “bad-guys” the former being whoever the the FP establishment line reflects. Reporting is just as bad about domestic matters so Americans are, in my view, even less informed about their world than the citizens of the old USSR. The intelligentsia, by and large, knew that what was reported in the Soviet press was tainted—in the U.S. the intelligentsia, for the most part, “believes” the media narrative either because they actually believe it (most of them) or that indicating any deviation will cost them their jobs and friends (deviant views not represented in the mainstream narrative are frowned upon in social situations).

    With the takeover of the Democratic Party, over time, of the Rubins. Clintons and Obamas, the left has been left dangling in the culture wars. Even the most brilliant friends of mine will not hear of deviating from voting Democratic and nearly blamed Nader for Bush. Whatever the left was in my pro-civil rights and anti-war youth is finished–there is nothing left of that. Some youth have taken up the fight but people of my generation have just settled into conventionality.

    As long as the left is moribund and it has no vision and no organization the political situation cannot change from that end. The best the DP can do is to support the interests of the more literate parts of the upper-classes and slow the pace of inevitable neo-feudalism that both parties and maybe even the American people want. Who knows, it may bring out the best of us if we all know our “place” and work within the confines of Downton Abbey.

    1. James Levy

      You also have the fact that for historical reasons the space opened up in the 1960s and 70s gave rich Jews and blacks and women on the make an opportunity to adopt neoliberalism as an escalator to positions of wealth and power in our society that had once been the exclusive domain of WASP males. It was a form of economic conformity that made those men and women (from the guys at Goldman Sachs to Barak Obama) less threatening, and more useful, to the existing power establishment. Thus the individual incentive to develop an ideology that was inclusive on a religious, racial, and gender basis but completely comfortable with class advantages and rampant capital accumulation at the cost of those not in the elite was profound.

      1. j gibbs

        Well said. You remind me of that line of somebody famous: it is very difficult to convince a man of something when his income depends upon not believing it.

  7. NotTimothyGeithner

    Stupid is the guiding light of evil. The GOP brand was in free fall during Dubya’s efforts, and the Dems did nothing except be silent or open to discussion. Anyone who thought a commission could be headed by an actual apartheid Senator is largely dominated by a lack of critical thinking skills. Picking an in offensive dolt in the mold of Tim Kaine would have demonstrated a thought process beyond bizarre debt fetishes which reach down to the local level.

  8. Schofield

    I think the answer is simpler than that and consists of four points the Democrat politicians don’t understand or some deliberately don’t want to understand for personal advancement reasons:-

    – all money created is state money in a partnership of interest-free and interest-burdened creation

    – more government created money takes place than private bank created money with the inverse creating economic dysfunction

    – to correct Adam Smith if the baker, the brewer and the butcher want to maximize their self-interest in providing our dinner they need to ensure supply is balanced by demand

    – some bakers, brewers and butchers couldn’t care less about the last point heedlessly believing they personally can get ahead without any adverse effect on the society they live in. This attitude is irrational because it severely compromises the advantages of human eusociality.

    More detail to be found on the first two points in the following article:-

  9. Left in Wisconsin

    Don’t disagree with any of the analysis in post or comments. Two points that need more emphasis:
    1. Even if we accept that real s**ism is dead and no one can precisely identify what it now means to be left, neither “progressives” nor what remains of organized labor even vaguely qualify (with perhaps a handful of individuals who prove the rule). (Nor is OL always progressive.) Most of those who self-identify with either love to talk about “the movement” but they either don’t get or don’t want to see the distinction between what the Dems are up to and what real change requires. When was the last time you heard any prog or labor hack promote real working class activism or empowerment? (And no, Occupy doesn’t count.) Both can be helpful to the left sometimes (I do consulting work for a progressive think tank that does some good work). But both also want to speak for the non-reactionary opposition and neither is super-tolerant of real leftism – the unions because it gets in the way of controlling the apparatus and schmoozing with sell-out Dems; the progs because it complicates (to say the least!) their relations with the foundations (who have absolutely no interest in a real left).

    2. Leaving aside economic power, the legal rules of politics in this country make it impossible to attain real political power outside the two-party system. So the only way forward in the near- to medium-term (20 years?) is to try to retake power in the Democratic Party, or at least enough power within the DP to be able to forge some kind of power-seeking alliance with those (including libertarians) who prefer to remain outside the DP. No disagreement with those who point out how difficult this is, but truly TINA.

  10. JTFaraday

    Well, in that case the solution for people seeking to “save social security” would seem to be to stop looking toward one particular political party to do it for them and create a trans-partisan pressure group and attempt to do it yourself.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but Democrats who want to “save social security” for ideological reasons should simply join up with the old white guys who are clustered in the Republican Party, and who were the only people who were ever supposed to earn social security benefits in the first place, and who indeed still constitute the demographic with the greatest claim on SS benefits. (Also, the most guns).

    This actually seems quite fitting to me. In fact, if I don’t get to see this revival of the one true “Democratic Party in Exile,” made whole again and unsullied by any of the perverting influences of divisive “identity politics,” I’ll be very disappointed.

    1. JTFaraday

      Also, in light of all that, Hillary Clinton could be great bait. It is incontrovertible that middle aged+ women are universal chew toys. No one else fits that bill so well!

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      Identity politics aside, a program that would lower the SS retirement age, increase benefits and fund it all by removing the income cap (also carried interest as wages and perhaps even making the payroll tax progressive) would be hugely popular with the public and should be a no-brainer for the Democrats.

        1. James Levy

          How is it that for 100 years the Republicans were the party of Protestants and the Democrats the party of Catholics but all of a sudden, when women and blacks stood up and asked for a hunk of the pie, it was “identity politics” and therefore bad? Or how about the Federalists as the party of creditors and the Democratic-Republicans the party of debtors? This “forget about your civil rights struggles and get to the back of the bus” mentality I see repeated here is really ominous. It’s like a weird variant of the Fox News mantra that discrimination no longer exists so shut the fuck up blacks, women, and gays.

          How about you appeal to peoples’ interests as workers without denying their personal understanding of who they are? I mean, just lay out the reality that we swim in and say, “come join us.” I think you’d get a lot better reception to that than to insisting that people’s sense of themselves as black or gay is stupid or irrelevant and if they weren’t so stupid they’d embrace the identity you have given them and follow you.

        2. Left in Wisconsin

          Agree about virtually all elected Dems but no so sure that defines electability.

          What I don’t get is why don’t people like Jill Stein, or better yet state-level Jill Steins, run in Dem primaries instead of as 3rd party. Wouldn’t a place on the podium during Pres debates or 30% of the vote in a state-level Dem primary be more helpful in the long run than whatever miniscule percentage they get as 3rd party? I’m not anti-3rd party. I’ve been through most of them over the last 30 years and still pay dues to my local non-partisan 3rd party (yes, it’s an oxymoron). It’s just that going back to Barry Commoner in 1980, I don’t see what has improved.

          In my state, the Dems have cleared the decks for the scion of the company that invented the mass-market $1000 bicycle made in China. But why put up with that?

          1. JTFaraday

            Well, but now you’ve changed the subject.

            My original point was that if people want to save a conservative New Deal policy that basically replicates the employment market and rewards the winners of the employment lottery twice, then maybe they should go where the real beneficiaries of that policy are.

            I think a little more truth will go a long way here.

            1. Brooklin Bridge

              Right now we have a “socialized” program, one run by the government, which involves billions (trillions?) of dollars of already earned security for a relatively powerless and financially poor group (call em old white farts if you like) that is under direct threat of the same fascist privatization (with government Guido) model as Obamacare. What is really at stake is not so much a conservative new deal (white boys club) socialization tweak, as a choice between government run programs period and wholesale privatization by an internationally powerful bunch of cut-throats.

              How would you suggest framing a “more truthful” discussion about the underlying limitations of SS that would address, rather than be victim to, the above?

              1. Brooklin Bridge

                I think your point is excellent, but to me it really does raise the question of the speed of evolution. You may well be right. If someone were to simply put that out there as the starting point for discussion, it might well be more effective and palatable than some cautious but flawed compromise with notions of “what can get done”.

              2. JTFaraday

                I don’t see why you object to my point that people who want to try to save SS for ideological reasons should join forces with the people who actually have accrued substantial SS benefits and work outside the political parties.

                On more than one occasion I have stated that the failure of the upper middle class to try to re-regulate the financial sector puzzles me because– in addition to being the only popular constituency that has any kind of influence whatsoever on the established political parties– they are the people who actually have some assets to lose.

                Same here, inclusive of a somewhat less affluent demographic.

                I won’t repeat my statement that SS is a conservative New Deal program that replicates the employment market and rewards the winners twice because that’s not in question.

                It may be administered by the government– a government that has grown as corrupt as the financial sector it used to regulate– but that’s all it is. Otherwise, it’s market determined all the way.

                Meanwhile, this thread like many other threads on this otherwise outstanding blog, is riddled with nasty little jabs at the downscale demographics who had the nerve to exercise the franchise– in the same corrupt system as everyone else.

                What should we do? Take away the vote? Or should people who want to save SS stop playing the victim of “identity politics”– nothing could be further from the truth– get off their duffs, and go do it themselves?

                1. different clue

                  Has the Social Security Administration grown as corrupt as the rest of government? Or do they handle the money in a non-corrupt way? I have been thinking that SSA’s own handling of money is quite clean.

  11. Brooklin Bridge

    This post is terrific! It’s clear and compelling. It’s as if the repeated efforts of people to describe this exact phenomenon of the Vichy-sois-erization of Democrats have a cumulative effect of polishing and sanding each successive iteration. This one is simply outstanding. Until I got to Hugh’s comment, my sentiment was, He’s absolutely nailed it! It’s unclear to me that Hugh’s objection regarding remaining within the framework of lessor-of-evilism really applies but as always Hugh’s exceptional directness is nothing if not forceful and imposes a sort of double take if only momentarily.

    Ultimately, this post strikes me as being less prescriptive than expository. As something designed to explain and expose, it’s impossible to describe the scenery of contemporary Democratic politics without bringing in lessor-of-evilism as part of the landscape.

    Moreover, at some level, everything is either more or less evil than something else, even a revolution that goes right down to the level of re-organizing protons, so it’s a charge that is just about impossible to beat. More to the point, however, than a framework imposing that we look for an energized Warren is the fact that such a choice – outside of crony, free market, capitalism- would indeed be a threat to TPTB which is why as things stand we will never have that choice, never mind make it.

    I would disagree with Gaius that the whole country now knows how bad they [NAFTA style trade agreements] are for us ordinary people?, but I think that would be more a disagreement with a rhetorical flourish, or turn of phrase, than the substance of the post. Regardless, it appears to me that very few in the country actually do understand what’s going on and what has already happened that makes what’s happening now so hard to change.

    As Matt Taibbi said, the election in itself is no more real and little more interesting than a Pro-Wrestling match. Hillary Clinton is going to win. She is the anointed one, agreed upon by both parties, the media and the military. That’s almost a given. What’s more interesting is that she is a bellwether for where Americans are at and a significant majority of Americans are still at the Hillary level. It may be true that people are starting to get it but it would be dreaming to imagine we are anywhere near the point yet where an energized Warren, never mind a full revolt against both parties or even the party system. The neo-liberals have a pretty sure bet for yet another rigged go-around.

    1. Gaius Publius

      Ultimately, this post strikes me as being less prescriptive than expository. As something designed to explain and expose, it’s impossible to describe the scenery of contemporary Democratic politics without bringing in lessor-of-evilism as part of the landscape.

      Yes, and thanks. That is the intent. I’m not advocating here the inside (electoral) game over the outside (in the streets) game. Just laying the land for the inside gamers.

      Personally, I’m all for playing Tea Party tactics on the Dems — I’m strongly opposed to lesser-evil-ism — but views of sincere people differ on this and that’s ok.

      As to 2016, I’m also a believer in “playing to the whistle”. Meaning, whatever else you think of Hillary Clinton, the only way to clear space for a real progressive in 2016 is to … clear the space, now. What that means in practice I’ll leave to your thoughts, imaginations, and actions. If you’re an inside game person, time to act is now — the whistle hasn’t blown. “What though the odds be great or small,” Auburn does sometimes beat Alabama, but only if it plays hard and to the end.

      More on that later. Thanks, Brooklyn Bridge, and also to everyone here. I love reading this comments section.


  12. MaroonBulldog

    Please remember that center” parties need not be “moderate”; that there is an “extreme” center: its name is “Fascism”.

  13. Oregoncharles

    OK, there’s one for the bookmarks.

    To put this much more simply: they aren’t stupid, they’re corrupt.

    This puts our political dilemma very clearly. I think it badly understates the degree of collusion between the “sides”, though. I actually think the presidential election is outright rigged. Since Clinton’s re-election – 20 years now – the wings of the 2-Party have simply traded the presidency back and forth, 2 full terms at a time. That’s the result; pre-arrangement explains some very strange elections. It makes things much simpler for everyone, especially those neoliberal billionaires, and the collusion may well be at their level. You can sometimes see them dictating to the candidates, as in 2000. Conspiracy theory, yeah. They have common interests and every opportunity to “breathe together.” In rooms, very nicely-appointed ones.

    The point? There is a vast, aching gulf on the left, where (according to issue polls) the People (and the potential votes) are. The Democrats, as Mr. Publius makes clear, are the kind of honest politicians who stay bought. Until Americans are ready to give up the 2-Party and try something new, they’re trapped. Now or very soon, it will be a very good question whether elections matter at all – one that went against the plutocracy would be in danger of open reversal. The powers to do that have been compiled under Obama, even more than Bush. The billionaires know better than anyone how badly they’re ripping off the rest of us, and they’re very nervous.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      Why nervous, as long as the military remains “professionalized”? You do understand they’ve repealed the Posse Comitatus Act, right?

      1. Jess

        In the short term the military could put down a domestic uprising. But not in the long term. Despite all their technology, our military has proven quite vulnerable to domestic guerrilla warfare tactics. (See Iraq, Afghanistan, and before that, Vietnam.) Plus, over here you get the fact that at some point those in the army and Marines would likely develop a spontaneous unwillingness to fire on fellow Americans in the numbers needed to enforce a sustained military state. However, if you’d like to read a novel which explores how rebellion against the oligarchs might start, unfold, and end, check out

    2. Katniss Everdeen

      “…one that went against the plutocracy would be in danger of open reversal”

      Where were you in 2000?

      1. James Levy

        I think Gore gave up the ghost for reasons we will never know, and that the Republican power grab was very personal and had more to do with the Bushco team and the insider Washington politico/pundit class than with the billionaires or the corporations. I think the money men were happy with Clintonian triangulation and neoliberalism. It was the Washington insiders who hated Clinton, that and the irredentist Right which never sees any Democratic President as legitimate. And then you had guys like the two Brits (Cockburn and Hitchens) whose animus towards the Clintons was borderline psychotic (and it was visceral, not essentially programmatic, because neither hated Dubya nearly so much, and Hitchens came to admire him).

        So, although I would agree that the 2000 election was stolen, I would look for the thieves largely outside the ultra-rich.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          I think you are right about Gore, but that doesn’t change what the Supreme Court did which was exactly what @Katniss Everdeen is suggesting. An open reversal – sort of – since the SCOUS managed to cover their tracks by preventing the very count that would have been decisive.

          Of course @Oregoncharles is talking about a truly open reversal of an established outcome as in: “Gore was elected in a landslide and the Supreme Joke will shortly let us know the reasons that George dela Bush will be taking office”.

          1. Jess

            Gore and his lawyers make a huge mistake that facilitated the SCROTUS decision: they asked for a recount only in the areas most favorable to Gore’s election. IIRC, SCROTUS ruled that that was unfair to voters in the rest of the state. But if Gore had really wanted to prove who won Florida, he should have asked for a state-wide recount from the start. (Which he would have won, anyway.) The fact that he didn’t was either stupid, or was just a cover strategy intended to fail from the get-go.

            1. Brooklin Bridge

              VERY good point. But it still adds up to a Supreme Court that colluded to overturn an election. Arguments that they should have stayed out of it all together and let the Florida Supreme Court decision stand are strong.

              1. James Levy

                Just to be pedantic, it shows how consciously the Supremes stole the election because all the “strict constructionist” Right-wingers know, if they read the Constitution, that disputed elections go to the House, not the Supreme Court. If they were even remotely honest they would have refused to take the case and the Chief Justice should have pointed this obvious Constitutional fact out to everyone on every news show he could get on. Bush likely would have been handed the White House anyway, but at least the pretense of Constitutional governance would have been maintained. Despite all the fingers in ears and “la-la-la” baloney since, Bush v. Gore ended all pretense that we live in a nation of laws, not men.

    3. Brooklin Bridge

      Until Americans are ready to give up the 2-Party and try something new, they’re trapped.

      If you mean voting, such as third party, you have excluded that possiblity in pointing out that TPTB own the electoral machinery and use it to great effect it in cases where the public is a little wanting in their understanding of representative government as an inside plaisanterie.

      1. MaroonBulldog

        “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” J. V. Stalin.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Indeed, love that quote! Traditionally, American powers-that-be favored tweaking the process by controlling who we got to vote for (as if the choice was ours – ha ha). Now we seem to flirt with the Russian approach. In the end, it’s as JK Galbraith said when asked to describe the difference between Communism and Capitalism, “With Capitalism, man exploits man, whereas with Communism it’s the other way around”.

  14. Jim

    “Put a real FDR in the White House and let him challenge the whole billionaire system.’

    Belief in such political sentiment is one of the reasons why there is no real populist movement in this country and why Big Capital, Big State and Big Bank are still in charge.

    FDR actually saved American Capitalism and its billionaire system in 1933.

    What passes for the left in this country also instinctively wanted to save the powerful public-private network of both Big Capital and Big State which was responsible for the financial/economic crisis of 2007/2008.

    For example, most of the financial/economic technocrats in the MMT/Post-Keynesian camp have argued, as articulated in “The Lender of Last Resort: A critical Analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Unprecedented intervention after 2007” by the Levy Economics Institute that “quick decisive and even secret action by the Fed was warranted in the earliest phase of the crisis…” in order to save us and the system.

    Wouldn’t a genuine populist left have advocated or allowed this modern network of public/private power to simply collapse without suggesting assistance of any kind—including the supposedly “wiser” administration by Big State over Big Capital through policy resolution by Big Bank (seizure of certain institutions and firing of some management) with the help of Big Treasury?


    1. Vatch

      There’s no guarantee that an alternative to FDR would have been of the populist left. He might have been of the populist right, that is, a fascist. That’s what happened in Germany at almost the exact same time, and a decade earlier in Italy. Someone approximately fascist would soon take power in Spain.

      1. Jim

        Was just trying to point out that there is a politics which tends to speak for the community against the State, ordinary people against the experts, while remaining anti-capitalist in its suspicions of concentrated corporate power and self-interested predatory behavior. This politics tends to be labeled as populist and is equally suspicious of intense concentrations of both private (corporate) and public(State-centric) national power.

        One can be radical(against Big Capital) and anti a strong central State through the promotion of local, municipal, regional of other subnational forms of community.

        Until the left/progressive community attempts to articulate a political theory of the State (beyond the bureaucratic centralism of FDR ) it will never be capable of offering a political vision that might eventually motivate a majority of the American population.

    2. James Levy

      Crash the system and there is no system to take its place. That means no fuel, no medicine, no courts and no law enforcement. If you had let the whole public-private system go under without a giant consensus as to what should replace it, the results would have been deaths and dislocation all across the planet. We live in a “just in time” globalized economy built on letters of credit and complex supply chains. Most people also have no access to food or fuel without credit. If the banks had all gone belly up, which is what you are suggestion would have been a great thing, were would cash and credit come from if they closed their ATMs and shuttered their doors?

      This system has to be REPLACED. Destroying it in the hope that something wonderful will instantaneously organically come together is completely unrealistic.

      1. j gibbs

        I am afraid you are right. We forego justice in favor of survival, and the looters know we always will. This just shows how idle all our criticism is, and why the only true solutions are individual ones. As the French say, sauve qui peut.

  15. casino implosion

    Seriously? FDR invented good regulation and Dems are now neoliberals because DLC?

    This is AlterNet/Daily Kos entry level stuff. I expect way higher level of discourse from NC, that’s why I come here.

    1. F. Beard

      How does one regulate government-backed/enabled theft of purchasing power from the poor and other less or non so-called “creditworthy?” By making those thefts more “prudent” so the thieves in their greed do not also injure themselves? Did such “prudence” (e.g. redlining) keep Watts from burning?

      Endogenous money creation is a great invention but it MUST be done ethically. That rules out ANY government privileges for credit creators. Government itself should issue credit but:

      1) For the general welfare ONLY.
      2) The credit issued should be legal tender for governrnent debts ONLY*.

      *But since the banks have cheated us with full legal tender fiat, restitution with full legal tender fiat is just.

  16. F. Beard

    So long as and perhaps long after we have welfare for the rich and the banks then wefare for their victims, everyone else, is REQUIRED by justice.

    Don’t believe in justice? Then you don’t believe in survival either, at least not your own. It’s not called FEAR of the Lord for nothing.

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

  17. Globus Pallidus XI

    As usual the diagnosis is spot-on, but somewhat lacking in the cure department.


    1. Often the perfect is the enemy of the good, but you must have a level beyond which ‘lesser of two evils voting’ makes no sense. I suggest that we are far past that level. Have the courage to vote for the next Nader no matter how much propaganda tells you not to. If Nader had gotten 15% of the vote, short term we might have had corporate shill A instead of corporate shill B, but progressive principles could no longer be so easily dismissed by professional politicians.

    2. We need to identify and support candidates in the next primaries! Even if a candidate can only win a single state, enough such candidates could stop the next neoliberal bastard de jour from being coronated and make for a truly interesting convention – or at least, build strength and networks for the next time.

  18. Synopticist

    I agree with most of this post and the comments, but you’re missing out the republican side.
    They’ve moved relentlessly to the right, driven both by the Koch-like oligarchs, and by rightwing populists in the media. This populism led to AND reflected the democrats abandonment of the white working class in favour of identity politics.

    The dems have only followed the inexorable logic of two party politics- you move into the space vacated by your opponent as he shifts into a more extreme position. That’s cowardly and damaging in the long term, but in a fixed electoral cycle it invariably seems to make tactical sense. Win the centre ground at all cost, blah blah.

    Obama’s victory in the 2008 primaries was the absolute epitome of this strategy. Don’t ask me what the solution is, apart from, as Lambert suggested, finding a guy willing to fake centrism but governing left.

  19. hughes

    I’m no expert but there seems to be a shortage of knowledge about this race and who Alex Sink is/was. First of all, she was the Democrat nominee for Governor in 2010 and lost to Rick Scott which was pretty hard to do given Scott’s personal history and negatives but Sink was a former Bank of America executive who sort of pioneered the ‘lost or destroyed promissory note’ roboforeclosure procedures in Florida so her resume was not so spotless either. She lived/s in Hillsborough County so was not even a resident of this district when she announced her candidacy and if the district had been a safe Republican seat for years the demographics in Pinellas county make it more competitive today but its not a liberal district.

    I actually applaud her for backing cuts in some fashion to Social Security. It is out of control and cuts are coming much sooner than many think. The Disability Fund will be exhausted in 2015 if not before and cuts will have to be made to that program or money taken from the Social Security Trust Fund. The idea that we can send monthly checks to affluent retirees with more than adequate private or public pensions is absurd. My father basically used his Social Security check to pay his Country Club dues and, now that I turned 62 and getting my own Social Security check it will basically pay for my boat slip, insurance and maintenance. I like it that but the idea that I should take the Social Security contributions of a Walmart employee so I can have a boat while our government floats on an ocean of debt is crazy!

    1. different clue

      Did you pay FICA taxes your whole working life? Then your SS retirement payments are your earned benefit. If you feel you don’t “need it” or “deseve it”, you an always give it to ex-Walmart poor people.
      Suggesting a “means test” is an open door to telling me that if I retire with a house AND a car that I have too much means and I need to sell the house and live in the car and then I can get the SS that I hve paid for IF I spend the house money down to zero first. That is the end game for “means test”. And in the meantime it is designed to destroy social consensus for SS because why would people who will be means tested out of it be willing to pay into it?
      The SS trust fund is running out of money because it is being two-step looted by the General Budget government. Simply re-raise non-FICA taxes enough to redeem the bonds over time for payout and the trust fund will perform as designed. If disability is costing too much for current disability FICA-take, raise FICA just enough to paygo the disability payments going out.
      Lifting the cap on FICA under the current “loot the trust fund to zero by refusing to redeem the bonds” plan just gives the General Budgeteers more money to steal from the trust fund. Therefor it is no answer.

  20. JTFaraday

    The beneficiaries of the conservative New Deal didn’t go anywhere other than a lot of them left the Democratic Party when it became a less totalitarian space. If people want to save Social Security they should get off their duffs and follow the money.

    Personally, I am officially done with the thesis that identity politics ruined the country. This place was sh*t hole before and it’s a different sh*t hole now, and the so-called “progressive” post-D-Party blogosphere likes to get the victims and the perps of both periods as mixed up as that idiot savant Tom Perkins.

  21. allcoppedout

    The UK situation is much the same, though we get less political bandwagonning here. We voted in substantial numbers for our third party, but they turned out to be just like the other turds and will be obliterated next time. A standing joke here is that Tony Blair was Margaret Thatcher in drag, except it is so true one can only cry. One of my fears is that even if a bunch of us in here got elected we might be as bad as any of the current creeps. I don’t mean this as an insult.

    I expect our Labour Party to announce it will run with the current coalition tax and spend plan for the first two years of the next Labour government. This is a now standard attempt to prevent ‘they’ll crash the economy with leftie policies’ attacks in the lead up to an election, and this is what, from this distance, some of your Democrats are up to. One presumes that the ‘sky will fall if we do anything about corrupt business’ myth is thought to be widely accepted.

  22. Kimm Warren

    Glad to see this topic gaining attention. It is likely this movement will grow as more politicians fear cracks in “their government”, (not our government) widen. It is always about the money. The economic collapse threatens tax receipts causing all whose livelihood is D.C. and the state houses to worry where will they find the money to pay the band just as it’s their turn to dance. Social Security is only one of the many forms of personal savings to be raided, how about MYRA or whatever it is being called? Appears to be another grab by “their government” to control more of the peoples savings, it should provide a nice piggy bank to borrow from. I get to D.C. a few times a year and am amazed at the growth of law firms; seems private, secret elevators are in big demand, nobody knows or sees who comes and goes, after all how would it look if certain people were seen going to certain lobbyists offices.
    More and more people are beginning to wonder whats going on.

  23. Robert Vogel

    The tea party is a mostly older group more dependent on Social Security and Medicare, so why do they choose a party that wants to ‘reform entitlements’?

    Dean Baker (economist) said ” cutting Social Security benefits, rather than raising financial speculation taxes, or other progressive taxes, cannot honestly be called making tough choices. It is making a cowardly choice. It is serving the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the population.”

    Republicans, since FDR, have wanted to cut Social Security and other programs for the vulnerable. Now they have cut food stamps, head start, most likely unemployment checks, and struggled to shut down Obamacare. But they favor increased funding for the world’s largest military, and tax cuts for the wealthy including the flat tax. That’s what they mean by smaller government. This policy, funded by wealthy individuals, is sinking the 99%, depressing demand, and producing extreme income inequality.

    Income inequality produces chronic unemployment, volatile economy, toxic politics, sham democracy, and pathological social problems. But this Republican Congress produced no legislation, shut down the government, and nearly risked the credit worthiness of the US. Republicans don’t like government, and they shouldn’t be in it.

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