Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recognizing Cooperation As A One-Way Street


They call it conventional wisdom because it's conventional and nearly obligatory; wise, it's not.

Mark Halperin is vying with David Broder as the Dean of Conventional Wisdom inside the beltway. In a post published 8/23 on time.com, Halperin had written

Amid a flurry of Democratic Party news releases and press conferences warning voters that Republicans are targeting Social Security for destruction, the President devoted his radio and Internet address last week to commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of the law that created the program. He cautioned that "some Republican leaders in Congress don't seem to have learned any lessons" from the past and are "pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress." This familiar refrain might indeed help the Democrats limit their midterm losses, but Obama's involvement shows that on this issue he is putting party before bipartisanship and that he sometimes can be tone-deaf to the human element required to change Washington's acid culture.

It is clear why Democrats are raising the specter of Republican efforts to alter Social Security. This tactic has worked in the past, as older voters — who typically turn out at the polls in higher percentages, especially in midterm years — tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans to protect the cherished retirement program. And given the weak economy, Obama's mushy poll numbers and the lack of traction on the White House's legislative achievements, it is no surprise that Democratic leaders would turn to the tried-and-true tactic. Also, with some prominent Republicans still calling for a fundamental change to the system by adding private accounts, the GOP has opened itself up to political attack.

But Obama is living in a parallel Vulcan universe if he thinks he and his strategists can spend the next two months using campaign appearances, advertising, robocalls and other voter communication to demonize Republicans on Social Security, and then turn around in January and try to make a deal on that same issue.

A bipartisan partnership on Social Security — as on every other tough issue, including Afghanistan, immigration, energy, education, deficit reduction and jobs — is going to require trust: trust between the President and Republican leaders to stand up jointly to the extreme forces in Congress and at the grass roots in both their parties, meet in the center, take some political risks and find creative compromises to get things done. On Social Security, that means Obama will have to support raising the retirement age and cutting some benefits, while Republicans will have to back some increased taxation. And they will have to work together and present a united front.

It is hard to imagine that Obama can be the leader of such a process in 2011 if he takes the current, sky-high level of personal and political mistrust and elevates it further by using Social Security as a weapon of distortion in September and October. And yet it appears that the White House believes there is no contradiction or connection between those two sequential presidential goals. Obama may be a hyper-rational guy, but his current rhetoric on Social Security defies logic if he wants to have a productive 2011.


The "cherished retirement program" to which Halperin refers is probably the most popular governmental program in American history, one which soon after enactment lifted much of a generation out of poverty and which, along with that other dreaded "entitlement," Medicare, continues to keep our nation's elderly out of poverty. As something our sainted free market system is increasingly unable to do for the non-elderly, the task is clear: Social Security's success must be stopped and woe to the politician insufficiently bipartisan to join the effort.

Raising the retirement age or cutting benefits to "save Social Security" is unnecessary and dangerous. The life expectancy of Americans is greater than in the past primarily because fewer individuals die in in youth, as infants or otherwise. And Republicans never, never are going to support raising any taxes to save a social insurance program many in their party were opposed to in the beginning and now are lining up behind Rep. Paul Ryan to privatize out of existence. At the supposed "deficit reduction commission," focus has been placed on Social Security, which by law pays its own way and adds nothing to the deficit. Its Repub members have risen as one to demand: no tax increase, only benefit reductions- and by the way, we want corporate and capital gains taxes cut. Let no means to slice and dice the middle class get neglected.

As with the GOP's effort to undermine a popular government program, so it goes with everything- everything else in Washington. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has spilled the beans in an exchange with the National Journal's Major Garrett (as noted by thinkpProgress.org):

MCCONNELL: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

NATIONAL JOURNAL: What’s the job?

MCCONNELL: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.


(Until recently, Garrett was at Fox News. Maybe McConnell was lured into complacency- or honesty.)

Later, McConnell would recognize his gaffe and claim elimination of the Obama presidency is merely the party's most important political job. Too late, though: in the National Journal interview, McConnell already had admitted "our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

The most important thing the GOP wants to achieve: defeat of President Obama. Its single biggest political goal: to get its nomineee elected. Pretty clear, there.

It is so clear that even former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough (R-Fl) was aghast, referring, evidently, to McConnell's admission as "embarrassing" and goal as "pathetic" (video below from MSNBC via Crooks and Liars).

Mark Halperin, amazingly, is oblivious to the obvious, perhaps living in his own "parallel Vulcan universe." President Obama, as an experienced community organizer, is there to negotiate and compromise, eager to get a half, even a third, of a loaf and declare victory. That's his route "to have a productive 2011." The guys on the other side are there to make sure he's not around more than another two years- nothing more. And they just told you so.










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