Friday, December 24, 2010

Link Of Two Issues, Slightly

You may not think gay rights and Social Security 'reform' have anything to do with each other. But they do, at least according to my sometimes bizarre way of thinking.

Brian Beutler, musing about "Why Republicans Gave In," argues

Republicans must at some level have understood that some of these things weren't going away. DADT would've stayed on the agenda. 9/11 responders would have stayed on the agenda. DREAM will stay on the agenda. And I'm guessing they made the simple calculation that it would be easier and wiser to give Dems these victories now, rather than fight it out with them publicly next after the GOP takes over the House with a caucus that's divided over these things.

Now the issues are off the table, and that creates more space for them to set the agenda.

Agreeing, Digby adds

DADT was endorsed by the military, START was endorsed by every Republican statesman dead or alive, including retired Generals by the bus load, and the 9/11 responders bill was to benefit a bunch of cops and firemen. At the end of the day, the GOP has always been a sucker for a man in a uniform.

But if START was approved because the only legitimate reason to oppose it would have been allegedly insufficient verification procedures- and that would have required a debate on details, not a GOP staple- and the 9/11 bill ultimately was approved because 9/11/01 is cheap politics for some, Don't Ask, Don't Tell involved another dynamic.

Repeal of DADT may be a boon for the military. Or it may be a bust for the military. More likely, it will be neither. But it surely is a milestone for gay rights in this nation. For a member of Congress to have voted to maintain DADT would have been as antithetical to the gay agenda- and in some quarters, discriminatory. That would not be an easy vote to make for a legislator who knows someone who is, or may be, gay.

Now that President Obama has partially mollified his left base with a victory on DADT and on nuclear arms reduction, it is time for him to swing right. And, according to Robert Kuttner, it appears he will do so on economic policy, possibly announcing at the January State of the Union address his support for much of the neo-liberal, moderately conservative proposals of "deficit" committee co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

They would include measures to cut Social Security. Paul Krugman explains

The proximate cause is that cutting Social Security is one of those things you’re for if you’re a Very Serious Person. Way back, I wrote that inside the Beltway calling for Social Security cuts is viewed as a “badge of seriousness”, which has nothing to do with the program’s real importance or lack thereof to the budget picture; that column elicited a more or less hysterical reaction, which sort of proved the point. (Looking back at the column, I was surprised to see that it was about the ISP himself; tales of a debacle foretold.)

But why Social Security? There was a telling moment in 2004, during one of the presidential campaign debates. Tim Russert, the moderator, asked eight or nine questions about Social Security, trying to put the candidates on the spot, while asking not once about Medicare, which serious people – as opposed to Serious People – know is the real heart of the story. Why the focus on Social Security?

The answer, I suspect, has to do with class.

When medical expenses are big, they’re big; even the very affluent are grateful when Medicare pays the bills for their mother-in-laws bypass or dialysis. The importance of Medicare, in short, is obvious to all but the very rich.

Social Security, by contrast, is something that matters enormously to the bottom half of the income distribution, but no so much to people in the 250K-plus club. A 30 percent cut in benefits would represent disaster for tens of millions of Americans, but a barely noticeable inconvenience for VSPs and everyone they know. A rise in the retirement age would be a vast hardship for people who do manual labor, but if anything a gift to VSPs, who don’t want to step aside in any case. And so on down the line.

So going after Social Security is a way to seem tough and serious — but entirely at the expense of people you don’t know.

As these pie charts The New York Times found at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (estimates from the March 2008 Current Population Survey) indicate, elderly Americans in the lowest quintile receive 88.4% of their income from Social Security while those in the highest quintile obtain only 18.6% of their income from Social Security.

The inability to relate to those Americans who most need Social Security goes deeper than politicians who know far more people who need this insurance than those who don't. Lamenting the distortion of the debate emanating from the mainstream media, William Greider maintains

The core fact is that Social Security has not contributed a dime to the deficit, but has piled up trillions in surpluses, which the government has borrowed and spent. Social Security’s surpluses have actually offset the impact of the deficit, beginning with Reagan.


the elites who don’t want to talk about this—because if people understand that Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus, building toward more than $4 trillion, people will ask why are politicians trying to cut Social Security benefits?

Noting "the owners of their publications.... think pretty much what the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce think, Greider states that reporters

are so embedded in the established way of understanding things (and) as media ownership became highly concentrated, the gulf between the governing elites, both in and out of government, and the broad range of ordinary citizens has gotten much worse. The press chose to side with the governing elites and look down on the citizenry as ignorant or irrational, greedy, or even nutty.

So, as DADT is washed away, we may see Social Security not washed away but eroded by a media elite anxious to encourage Republican and Democratic politicians who are unable or unwilling to understand its critical role in American life.


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