Washington, DC - Last week we witnessed the capo di tutti capi of political and policy evolution. President Barack Obama, after Vice-President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan played the role of his social-issue Shofar, came out in favour of the equality of marriage for all in the US, regardless of sexual orientation. To put it in simple terms: for the first time in the history of this country, the president of the United States supports gay marriage.
This is obviously a big moment. For those seeking to enter loving relationships recognised by law, nothing has changed in that realm. But culturally, when the president or other major political figures make strong statements on issues, it changes everything. To quote Republican House Leader Shelley Runyon in the film The Contender: "What I say, the American people will believe. And do you know why? Because I will have a very big microphone in front of me."
This rhetorical power is why a concomitant devolution by many in the Democratic Party, in protecting one of the two or three most important programs of the past century, the creation of social security, is so disturbing.
During the 2011 debate over the cliched "Grand Bargain", when right-wing Congressman were doing their darndest to moonwalk this country into financial default, perhaps just as frightening is what Democrats were willing to put on the table to appease the economic Morlocks. Namely, Medicare and the aforementioned social security (an issue that I work on), the latter so successful and politically powerful that it was responsible for taking millions of seniors (and children) out of poverty and helping cement an economically populist coalition within the Democratic Party that lasted a half century.
Why would Democrats be willing to touch this program, the crown jewel of progressive accomplishment, to deal with people who don't believe in compromise and have been trying to destroy the programme for decades? Likely, because too many Democrats have done their own evolving into a form of species known as Midcenturia Republicanus. Or Washington GOPers from the 1930s-1970s, who went along to get along, tried to always seem more "reasonable" than Democrats and, most importantly, remained a loveable minority in the halls of Congress.
Today, the consensus is rigged in the other direction. As Trudy Lieberman pointed out in her great piece in The Columbia Journalism Review:
"For nearly three years CJR has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using 'facts' that are misleading, or flat-out wrong, while ignoring others ... news outlets have given the public a skewed picture of the financial health of this hugely important programme, which is the sole source of retirement funds for millions of Americans and will continue to be for decades to come."
When President Obama seems willing to talk about cutting social security, House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi refuses to rule it out and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer seems like a lion on the Serengeti eyeing a gazelle, this just sends a signal that it is OK for others to go even further - which bodes very badly for the future.
As Lieberman goes on to say, "the program can pay full benefits until 2036, and three-quarters of the benefits after that without new revenues. Many experts believe small fixes like lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes - $110,100 for 2012 - will make Social Security solvent for decades. But that option is not on Washington’s table, nor has it been discussed much in the press".
Then there are ideas such as trimming the bloated, out-of-control defence budget, or allowing the US government to bulk negotiate for lower-priced prescription drugs for Medicare (like virtually every other post-industrial nation does) - or not imprisoning a larger share of our population, per capita, than Ming The Merciless.
Save billions on these wastes of funds and human potential, sprinkle some taxes on Kimye and poof. No deficit.
Yup, I hate to ruin it for any adrenaline junkies reading this, but not only is there no deficit crisis, but there are myriad ways to cure any minor ills without defenestrating social security, a programme that protects the 99 per cent of us - or one that you could say is more streetcar than car elevator. Additionally, recent elections in France and Greece reminded their elites that austerity is not only completely unnecessary and economically ahistorical, but ridiculously unpopular. Even 76 per cent of self described Tea Partiers - or people who think Christian rock is cool and lipids are a food group - don't want anyone touching their social security. Clear enough?
The United States has only two major parties, but nobody can make voters who are unenthusiastic trudge on over to their local polling place this November. Democrats need to stand up and protect social security, because it is the right thing to do, because there is simply no reason to cut it and because it shows strength politically (especially to those older voters who might not like the gay marriage decision). In other words, when it comes to social security: re-evolve already!