October 7, 2013

[h/t David]

Despite all the sound and fury about Obamacare, here's the truth: It's not the prime target of the right. The real targets are Medicare and Social Security, as Rep. Barton admits in the video above when he says he wants "real reforms in entitlements".

Over the past couple of weeks, it's become apparent to me and many others that this entire showdown is not over Obamacare. The ACA is a convenient patsy because it is new, untested, and they've managed to poison public opinion around it over the past three years.

The real target is Social Security and Medicare. From a political standpoint, waging a war using those programs as hostage would be so wildly unpopular no sane or insane politician would dare choose that route. And so Obamacare has become the convenient stand-in, a cardboard stand-in for their real goals.

As Diane noted in her post here, the New York Times published an exposé showing how this strategy formed over the months since Barack Obama's re-election. As usual, it was financed and formed by the Kochs and their right-wing partners. But the Kochs are hardly the only players in this particular round of attacks.

Attacking the safety net from the 'left'

Billionaire Pete Peterson has been instrumental in creating a campaign to kill Social Security and Medicare that gives the appearance of coming from the left. His "FixTheDebt" campaign launched in 2011 was crafted to fool centrists and even those calling themselves liberals into believing there was a crisis afoot that must be fixed.

In many ways, Peterson's astroturf campaign has been far more insidious than the Koch effort, if for no other reason than the way they try to disguise themselves as "independent" and "centrist" with left-leaning roots.


Creating a crisis is key. "America is more than $16 trillion in debt," Fix the Debt's website warns, calling it "a catastrophic threat to our security and economy." The CEOs echo this warning, writing to Congress of the "serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States."

But as Dean Baker shows, this talking point just isn't true -- and the inventors of Fix the Debt know it. Indeed, they have admitted it: former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, who is on the steering committee, has said publicly that the goal is to create an "artificial crisis" to get Congress to act.

To foster the illusion of a grassroots uprising, Peterson has nursed what the National Journal calls a "loose network of deficithawk organizations that seem independent but that all spout the Peterson-sanctioned message of the need for a 'grand bargain.'"

Peterson has crafted an insidious PR campaign aimed at young people whose concerns range from climate change to jobs. He hires firms that at least appear to have progressive roots, such as Purpose Campaigns, LLC. According to their most recent tax filing, Peterson's foundation paid Purpose Campaigns nearly $400,000 to craft a campaign targeting young people specifically to fearmonger over the debt.

But if you look at Purpose Campaigns' website, what you see is a pleasantly progressive outlook. They value diversity, and one of their campaigns is specifically geared to fighting for LGBT rights, a distinctly progressive goal. They have a campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and their principals also co-founded Avaaz, a social network online community dedicated to advancing progressive values worldwide.

Why is a company like that receiving the big bucks from the likes of Pete Peterson?

In addition to throwing money at groups for national tours and town hall meetings, the 86-year-old Peterson is obsessed with creating. This time around we have The Can Kicks Back, complete with the fantasy that young people care more about the national debt than their own. A mascot -- "AmeriCAN," a staffer dressed as a giant can -- who, in December, taught former Senator Alan Simpson to dance "Gangnam style." This goofy press stunt went viral -- Peggy Noonan labeled it "merry and shrewd" -- and the group enjoyed puff pieces in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

How better to reach young people than to pay a progressive campaign outfit to develop a campaign aimed at young people? This is exactly how Peterson operates. His foundation donated $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative in order to facilitate fearmongering discussions on fixing the national debt. Another $100,000 was donated to the Bipartisan Policy Center to help along the work of Simpson-Bowles.

Their policy toolkit is remarkably similar to the policy toolkit developed for Young Americans for Liberty, the Ron Paul group aimed at young people, and the "grassroots toolkit" promoted by the Tea Party Patriots to defund Obamacare, but this one is more refined, and more...millenial.

As we inch closer to default, watch for the crisis talk to escalate. The cable shows will have Peterson proxies on to tell us all how scary it is that no Grand Bargain is in sight, and to explain with serious faces why chained CPI isn't really such a big terrible thing to give away in order to keep from defaulting on the debt ceiling. We'll keep seeing Tea Party idiots parading across the screen with claims that default isn't really a default because we can still pay some bills. And we'll hear more and more about how defunding Obamacare is a priority.

They'll wax eloquent about how they really want to save Medicare and Social Security for future generations in an elegant sleight-of-hand crafted by public relations organizations who are trained to channel Orwell.

They don't give a whit about defunding Obamacare. They want the biggest fish: Medicare and Social Security. Obamacare is just the proxy to save them from the inevitable backlash they'll get -- even from their whitest and most conservative constituents -- if they dare to speak those words aloud.

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