In Politics, Nothing Happens by Accident

"In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

All the bad things. Poor president Obama. He's just powerless to stand in the way of the Republicans. Only thing is, he isn't.

This stuff isn't happening to Obama. This stuff is happening with Obama. The president is complicit.

Here's something I posted over at The Agonist earlier:

Did you catch Robert Kuttner's article the other day?

Obama to blink first on Social Security

The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first  part of a multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken  Democrats.The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key  Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the  Bowles-Simpson plan -- including cuts in Social Security. This is to be  unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president's State of  the Union address.The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of  budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee  chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt  ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.White House strategists  believe this can also give Obama "credit" for getting serious about  deficit reduction -- now more urgent with the nearly $900 billion  increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal.

Obama has been telegraphing his intent on going after Social Security  back even to the primaries and the presidential campaign. And his  establishment of his deficit commission after congress refused to  establish it for him was a huge tell, especially when you look at the  cast of characters he appointed and the man who underwrote the cost.  This cast of characters is not new. If you followed the FDL book salon  back in May with Dr. Steve Gillon, author of "The Pact", you'd have come across this:

How Monica Lewinsky Saved Social Security: Clinton, Gingrich, Bowles and "The Pact"

I thought it would be instructive to have Dr. Gillon on to talk about  Bowles's history of shuttle diplomacy in 1997 to negotiate a deal  between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton to cut Social Security. He based  his book The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation  on interviews he conducted with Clinton, Gingrich, Bowles and others  involved in the negotiations. And according to Bowles, the deal would  have gone through save for one factor: the Monica Lewinsky episode.  Bowles was uniquely suited to the task of negotiating a deal on Social  Security. He had the trust of Newt Gingrich and the Republicans that  Clinton would need to carry out his vision of Social Security reform:

Bowles became the liaison between Clinton and Gingrich,  shuttling back and forth brokering deals between Capitol Hill and the  White House. Neither man trusted the other, but both trusted Bowles, and  he became the key figure in their evolving relationship.

"You cannot  underestimate the role that Erskine played," recalled Joe Gaylord. "He  and Gingrich liked each other. They trusted each other."

Bill Archer,  the powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee, also felt  comfortable with Bowles. "He was not ideological. He was not pushing the  big left agenda. He was there to make things happen between the White  House and a Republican Congress."

Later, Gingrich would call his  appointment "decisive," and a turning point in his relationship with the  White House. "It is the one brief period when you have a significant  adult whose experience transcends Washington, who understands making  deals and getting business done, and who has a center-right bias in  fiscal policy," he said. "He had the ability to bridge the White House  and my party in Congress."

Clinton had been trying to deal with Social Security for some time.  In 1994, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala had appointed the 13-member  Danforth Commission to advise on Social Security. She appointed three  members from labor (including Richard Trumka), Republican Alan Simpson (appointed by Obama to co-chair his Deficit Commission with Bowles) and Pete Peterson (the hedge-fund billionaire funding much of the current economic work being used to justify dismantling Social Security).

Erskine Bowles. Alan Simpson. Pete Peterson. Funny how these names  keep coming up. Funny how Obama appointed Simpson and Bowles to co-chair  his catfood commission. Funny how Pete Peterson underwrote the cost of  the commission and provided staff. And funny how Obama's "deal" with  Republicans just happens to include the precedent setting payroll tax  holiday that diverts Social Security contributions away from the trust  fund for the first time ever, exactly as the Republican American  Enterprise Institute had proposed to Republicans more than two years ago  as the first step towards undermining the program. All just  coincidence, I'm sure. Or maybe not.

The Kuttner article  on Obama going after Social Security came out only a few days ago. A  day later it didn't seem to have drawn much notice (as in none at all)  on some Democratic leaning news sites, so I emailed an excerpt to a few  to be sure they were aware. The replies I received from (rhymes with  Bosh Farcial) at the memo joint and from a few writers at Salon  basically boiled down to "I trust Obama and he would never do this.  Robert Kuttner is obviously lying."  

The replies were polite, but they  made it clear they were not interested. It felt a lot like I was talking  to the cute brown bear. (Maybe I should have tried to catch them off guard by mentioning Air America and Lionel?)

If the 112th congress goes after Social Security, it will be with the direct  assistance and acquiescence of the 44th president. The congress can't  get anything past a (putatively) Democratic president unless he wants it  to get past. And in this case, it's pretty clear that he does. Just  don't try to get the cute little brown bear to understand.

An addendum with a portion of Obama's interview with Steve Inskeep of NPR to go with what I posted elsewhere. Just for good measure. About Social Security, Obama said:

INSKEEP: Won't Republicans argue -- and, in fact, won't  reality argue that any cuts will have to be even deeper because this  package that you're pushing for now will mean there's even less  government revenue?

OBAMA: Actually, I think that if you talk to  economists, both conservative and liberal, what they'll say is the  problem is not next year. The problem is, how are we dealing with our medium-term debt and deficit, and how are we dealing with our long-term debt and deficit? And most of that has to do with entitlements, particularly Social Security and Medicaid.

Got that? The President is saying that Social Security, with it's 2+  trillion dollar surplus that is on track to grow to 4+ trillion dollars  by 2020 with money that working people have paid in advance to fund the  retirement of the baby-boom demographic is an entitlement and is particularly  important to dealing with the debt and deficit...even though Social  Security has nothing at all to do with the debt and deficit.

The Social  Security trust fund has been raided to finance tax cuts for the rich.  That money was loaned to the federal government to help fund  those tax cuts. Paying those loans back means that the rich will need to  pay higher taxes (which of course Obama just agreed to cut.) They don't  want to pay those taxes. Obama doesn't want them to pay those taxes.  They don't want to repay the money that was contributed by working  people. They want to ffffnnnn steal it.

To that I would add this. From Obama's remarks  at his budget busting Bush tax cuts Reaganite trickle down economics  and lay the foundation for cutting Social Security bill signing ceremony  today:

There will be moments, I am certain, over the next couple  of years, in which the holiday spirit won't be as abundant as it is  today. Moreover, we've got to make some difficult choices ahead when it comes to tackling the deficit. In some ways, this was easier than some of the tougher choices we're going to have to make next year. There will be times when we won't agree, and we'll have to work through those times together. But the fact is I  don't believe that either party has cornered the market on good ideas.  And I want to draw on the best thinking from both sides.

He's telling us. Some of us hear what he is saying. People like Robert Kuttner are trying to get the story out. So far it feels like screaming into the vacuum of space.

And now I'm back where I began:

"In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Display: Sort:
    Is there any sacrifice (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by john horse on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 09:16:58 AM EST
    by the middle class too great to make to enable the corporations and the rich to continue to live the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed? (sarcasm alert)

    By coincidence, I have been reading Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston's book Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign To Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich and to Cheat Everybody Else.  Romberry is being truthful when he writes that "The Social  Security trust fund has been raided to finance tax cuts for the rich."  As David Cay Johnston pointed out in his book "Social Security taxes were used to pay for the ordinary bills of the government, making up for the taxes that were no longer being paid by the rich because of the 1981 income tax cuts."

    So they raised our social security taxes in 1983 so that the system would have enough funds to pay for the retirement of baby boomers.  It resulted in a huge surplus.  Republicans cut taxes for the rich and used the social security surplus to make up for the lost revenue.  Now Republicans and their Democratic corporate allies want us to make further sacrifices, to continue the transfer of wealth from us to them.  This is adding insult to injury.


    It seems like (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by jbindc on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:03:53 PM EST
    Those who really, really support Obama will not (and have from the beginning) ever allow anything to be his fault, while any good that comes out is clearly all of his own superior 11th dimensional chess playing.  I don't think it's good to hold politicians on such a pedestal - for them or for the country.

    I beleive he should get credit for the good things he's done, but you know what? He wanted the job of POTUS, so that means, he should take the blame when something doesn't work out.  I don't think that make him bad or weak (unless most things don't work out).  I think it's more his supporters who push this theme than he himself, but it's just maddening.  

    What I wouldn't give for some politician to be honest. Of cours, Walter Mondale was honest and said he'd have to raise taxes - that didn't turn out so well for him.

    Honesty, (none / 0) (#3)
    by Zorba on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:25:07 PM EST
    as you pointed out, does not generally work out well for politicians.  And you may give Obama more credit than I do, but for the most part, I agree with you- he wanted the job, he should take the blame for bad results, too.  (I may not think that he has done as many "good things" as you do, but I won't quibble;  he's certainly a lot better than the alternative we were presented with in the general election.)  To paraphrase an old saying:  "Uneasy rests the butt that sits on the throne."  

    Actually (none / 0) (#4)
    by jbindc on Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 01:34:05 PM EST
    I'm trying to temper my feelings towards him and not look through the jaundiced eyes of "I don't like much he's done."  :)

    Forgot about my own diary. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Romberry on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 02:41:57 AM EST
    I've been linking to The Agonist and FDL for the remarks I posted as a diary here. Completely forgot. Turned up on the second page of a Google search. I must be getting forgetful in my old age.