Social Security is the third rail of American politics – House Speaker “Tip” O’Neil
Only Nixon could go to China – Mr. Spock, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
President Barack Obama’s proposal of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, especially the infamous “chained CPI”, was a “Nixon to China” moment in American politics. The answer to the question “How could he get away with it?” is actually easy. Presidents in their second term can do things only a lame duck would dare. The more interesting and important question is why he would do such a thing, especially as he has been considered generally a liberal, and to his enemies even a socialist.
On the surface, the answer to “why?” is also easy. He has likely reached the end of his political career. Only John Quincy Adams went to Congress after being president. Most presidents lived a quiet life of retirement after their terms in the White House.
Barack Obama is a young man as presidents go, and he can look forward to many years of productive activity after his second term ends. One thing men in his position do, beside writing memoirs, is to make lots of money giving speeches. He can ensure himself a lucrative post-presidential career of speechmaking by pleasing those who are most likely to extend invitations that would pay handsome honoraria. These people are likely to be the very wealthy business leaders who helped him get elected president in the first place. He did not get to where he is today by being a community organizer or even a constitutional law professor. He got to this position by catering to the extremely wealthy people who are the powers that name our presidents. How else would a young man, fairly unknown at the national level, not yet through one full term as a US Senator, and black, get elected President? It wasn’t simply $5 and $10 Internet donations.
Candidates now spend staggering sums of money each election cycle, putting on their version of the electoral “dog and pony” show, but if we want to vote for the winner, our choices of candidates are limited to two that are declared by the mainstream media (90% of which is owned by six corporations), as viable: one Democrat and one Republican.
There is nothing in our Constitution that requires parties at all. Parties are one of those facts of political life. Parties are born of factions. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, said, in Federalist number 10:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulses of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Today, the Democratic and Republican parties are two heads of one corporate puppet party controlled by that faction, According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “[a]bout 47 percent of Congress, or 249 current members are millionaires. … Fully 36 Senate Democrats, and 30 Senate Republicans reported an average net worth in excess of $1 million in 2010.”
More Senate Democrats than Republicans are millionaires…Hmmm.
But being a former President of the United States has a cachet that transcends party in the international business and academic circles we can expect Obama to travel in after January 20, 2017. He need not be concerned about his financial future or that of his children. So why is he willing to go along with attacking some of the most popular programs in American history, programs that help our elderly live their remaining lives with dignity?
All of the talk of the need to be bipartisan is just claptrap. Obama squandered the opportunity he was given in 2008. Or did he? The answer to that question depends on what you thought he was going to do. Having been given a landslide victory and control of both houses of Congress in 2008, he could have changed the country’s course 180 degrees from where Ronald Reagan steered the ship of state after the 1980 election. Instead of being concerned that his initiatives would be filibustered in the Senate because he had a majority, but did not have 60 votes with which to invoke cloture, he should have dared the Republicans to shut down the government as Bill Clinton did when Newt Gingrich tried to render the President irrelevant after the 1994 elections. But he did neither.
The deeper answer is that Obama agrees with those who believe government exists first and foremost to safeguard the wealth-aggregating abilities of the nation’s (and the world’s) most powerful people and institutions. That is why he was never serious about a public option for health insurance. He is what leftists had feared 2008 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain would be: Bush Term III. In fact, Obama may be worse. Neither Bush nor McCain would have suggested what Obama is suggesting. Only Nixon could go to China. Only someone who calls himself a Democrat could think to touch the third rail of American politics and emerge unscathed.
He takes a few small steps, like signing the Lily Ledbetter Act, saying (finally) that he’s for same-sex marriage and that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and that the minimum wage should be raised, albeit to a puny $9 an hour. But his overall administration is one of continuing and extending ongoing abuses of power that we often blame on Republicans but of which Democrats are just as guilty: Outrageous military spending, a major reduction of which would still leave the United States as the world’s biggest military spender, yet go a long way to reducing the deficit; drone warfare, which kills innocent civilians while leaving the joystick-wielding computer gamers stateside and untouched; compulsory health insurance or IRS penalties—remember when he denied the penalties were a tax? Sequestration was his idea. And now he is trying to tell us that we can’t afford to be giving cost of living adjustments to our seniors, the disabled and veterans the way we have been. The COLA that went into effect for Social Security and SSI in January 2013 was 1.7%. (That’s the federal government’s equivalent of finding quarters between the sofa cushions!)
That a Democrat says and does these things lends legitimacy to the claims of Republicans like Paul “what’s he still doing in Congress” Ryan, Rand Paul and their ilk, because most of the American people just swallow the sound bites fed to them by corporate media. Those sound bites are saying that the President has to play ball with the likes of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-OH). The sound bites, sometimes quoting Obama, also say that we have to be more competitive in the world economy. All that means is that we try to take the lead in the race to the bottom, so that the likes of the Walton Family of Walmart can get richer.
I understand why African Americans voted for Obama in 2008. I don’t understand why any non-black liberal did so in 2008 and any liberal of any color did so in 2012. African Americans — everyone, in fact — would do well to start paying attention to programs such as the Black Agenda Report. I strongly suggest to liberals of any color to stop voting by a person’s skin color or gender—yes, Hillary voters, I mean you—and start helping to break up the Republicrat monopoly over this nation’s politics by voting third parties and independents. Do not believe the late Margaret Thatcher, who said “There is no other alternative.” There will be alternatives when we stop believing there are none.
We also have to stop thinking short term. The extreme rightwing is reaping the benefits of political organizing that goes back to at least 1964. The powers that be will always create a new short-term emergency or a new enemy, to keep our eyes and minds off the real issue: long term, the structure of our economics and foreign policies are not viable if you want to see the US as part of a just, peaceful and prosperous world. The powers that be, for whom Obama is managing the US at the moment, don’t want that. They want us angry and suspicious of each other, so that they can con us into believing we do need those cuts in social programs, we do need to let the rich have more tax breaks, we do need those drones for our security. While we fight over crumbs, they’re eating the whole pie.
Kellia Ramares-Watson is an independent journalist in Oakland, CA. She voted for Dennis Kucinch in the 2008 California presidential primary even though he had dropped out of the Presidential Race two days earlier. She voted for Cynthia McKinney that November. Ramares-Watson was unaffiliated and thus did not vote in the 2012 Califirnia Primary. She later registered for the California Pirate Party, and voted for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party for President in 2012 Ramares-Watson can be reached to theendofmoney[at]gmail.com