Jonathan Alter Goes On A Hippie-Punching Spree

Digby speaks to Sam Seder on the Elites' Campaign to Destroy Social Safety Nets, December 11, 2012 They're drawing the battle lines, and Jonathan Alter is leading the charge for Bloomberg News, trumpeting Third Way wah-wahs over what he calls


Digby speaks to Sam Seder on the Elites' Campaign to Destroy Social Safety Nets, December 11, 2012

They're drawing the battle lines, and Jonathan Alter is leading the charge for Bloomberg News, trumpeting Third Way wah-wahs over what he calls "entitlements" and what I call earned benefits; that is, Social Security and Medicare.

His rant is particularly rankling because he, like everyone else in the Village, seems to think this is some kind of intellectual exercise instead of a discussion of very real, visceral issues to a lot of real people who don't live in the Village.

Worse, he takes after the left side of the debate on President Obama's behalf, because suddenly we're not supposed to have any differences of opinion with him or his ideas about how to "reform" these programs?

Please.

First, we're scolded:

A few liberals even complained that Obama violated his principles by compromising. They must not have listened to him all year. One of his most important -- and most frequently stated -- principles is that compromise is essential to governing.

For starters, this liberal isn't particularly disappointed in a deal that essentially ends the Reagan-era trickle-down economic theory, protects the unemployed and those most in need in our society while preserving some very real breaks for middle class folks with kids and college expenses. So there's that. I actually think it was a pretty good deal, and the disappointment I hear from others is mild compared to the seething white-hot anger after the public option died in Senate chambers.

If liberals are disappointed in Obama’s fiscal-cliff deal, imagine how they will feel in late February when he starts making tough choices on spending cuts. Liberals need to think harder about what their own long-term deficit reduction plan would be. Raising more revenue is necessary. It’s not sufficient.

The main source of disappointment that I hear is not so much that there is compromise, but that the beginning point is all too often where negotiations should end. If Republicans' starting point on Medicare is Paul Ryan's voucher plan, why on earth would our starting point being to raise the eligibility age? Why not start with Medicare for All to answer the voucher plan, and end up somewhere in the middle where traditional Medicare survives with a younger eligibility age with a buy-in provision?

We all know the answer to that: It wouldn't happen. Neither would Paul Ryan's voucher plan and neither would eligibility age go up. Because the truth is, adding younger people to Medicare with a buy-in actually strengthens it to a point where it would likely survive forever, and as it survived and thrived, it would be expanded to everyone. That, by the way, is not a left-wing principle. It's math. Plain, simple math.

That would be creative, but most importantly, it would be a starting point from which everyone could then understand what our priorities are. When you start a negotiation by saying, "Here, opponents, let me weaken the program so you can wreak even more damage" it tends to anger people who care about saving it.

Including me, by the way. It was one thing to try to get something close to universal health care into place back in 2010 and entirely another to be fighting for an existing program which really needs some younger people to participate and pay into it rather than limiting it to older people. I may not have been angry about losing the public option to kill pre-existing conditions exclusions, but I would be very angry at being forced out of Medicare eligibility for a couple of years.

This is not an academic exercise. It's all too real. My year of birth is the one they want to use as the cutoff year for raising the eligibility age. I have paid into Medicare since I was 15 years old. Every single year, part of what I make goes to Social Security and Medicare. It's not just wrong, it's immoral to put people out of Medicare who have paid for it faithfully every year, just before they might start to see a benefit from it.

Alter and his fellow Villagers are trying to set the stage for the upcoming battles by shielding President Obama from criticism he deserves for giving too much at the outset. When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, it's not a left/right question. Over 2/3rds of Americans do not want any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Period. When we push for those issues to be swept off the table, it's not because we're a bunch of sulky hippies stomping our feet.

Here's my challenge to Jonathan Alter. Live for a month on Social Security with no other supplemental income. Then come back and tell me about how it should be cut.

Until you've walked in their shoes, it's just a spreadsheet exercise. Try living it first.

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