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“Greed Is Always In Fashion On Wall Street”: Republicans Or Social Security? On 80th Anniversary, Still An Easy Choice

Ten years ago, as Americans celebrated the 70th anniversary of Social Security, the presidency of George W. Bush was already disintegrating over his attempt to ruin that amazingly successful program. The people’s rejection of the Bush proposal to privatize the system was so powerful that Republicans in Congress scurried away – and his political reputation never recovered.

Since then, the United States has endured a market crash and a crushing recession that proved how much this country needs its premier social insurance plan. Those events demonstrated that ceding control of Social Security and its revenues to Wall Street, in accordance with the Bush scheme, would have been a national disaster. And yet the Republican candidates for president seem utterly unable to learn that simple economic lesson.

To paraphrase the old French adage, the more things change, the more conservatism remains the same. On this 80th birthday of Social Security, the increasingly right-wing Republicans continue to blather the same old nostrums, as if they missed everything that has happened since 2005 – and as if they still want revenge against Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the humiliations he inflicted on their ideological ancestors.

Since August 14, 1935, Republicans and their financial backers have sought to undo the progress that Social Security represents for workers, the elderly, the disabled, and their families. Today’s Republican presidential wannabes all claim to be offering something new, but whenever they talk about Social Security, they sound as if they’re stuck in 2005 – or 1935.

From Rand Paul to John Kasich, from Marco Rubio to Rick Perry, from Lindsey Graham to Ted Cruz, from Bobby Jindal to Jeb Bush and George Pataki, they all agree that Social Security should be privatized. And with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, all agree on undermining the only program that keeps millions of older Americans from ending their lives in poverty rather than dignity. Chris Christie, robber of public employee pensions, would swiftly raise the retirement age to 69, threatening grave hardship for blue-collar, lower-income Americans. Carly Fiorina would inflict similar suffering on workers who weren’t fortunate enough to snag an undeserved $40 million “golden parachute,” like she did.

Behind Republican warnings about the solvency of Social Security – and their enduring desire to privatize – are major financial interests that would like to seize the system’s revenue streams for their own profit.

Greed is always in fashion on Wall Street. But working Americans see no reason to hand Social Security over to the banks, when its administrative costs amount to well under 1 percent of its revenues. They know that the financial geniuses who almost sank the world economy eight years ago would charge far more than 1 percent, while imposing enormous risks on everyone but themselves.

So thanks, but — most emphatically — no thanks. As we mark this anniversary, most surveys show negligible support for privatizing Social Security or reducing its benefits; indeed, there is growing public support for proposals to expand and improve the system.

Yet polls also show many young Americans worrying that the system may not be sufficiently robust to pay full benefits by the time they reach retirement age. The latest report of the Social Security trustees, issued last month, suggested that the system’s trust fund could be exhausted by 2034.

Even then, the system’s revenues are projected to pay at least 75 percent of the benefits owed. But that wouldn’t be good enough when benefits are already too low – and there are several simple ways to fix Social Security’s finances so that nobody need worry. Long before the trust fund runs out of money, Congress can follow the example Ronald Reagan set in 1983 by raising the payroll tax rate — or mandate more progressive policy changes, such as lifting the cap on earnings subject to the tax, and broadening the tax base.

Declaring the nation’s “ironclad commitment” to Social Security, Reagan – who had once opposed the system as a symptom of creeping socialism – also expanded its base by bringing government employees into the system. Comprehensive immigration reform, which the Republicans oppose in nativist lockstep, would also create a stronger future foundation for all retirees and disabled workers.

So whenever these would-be presidents start barking about the need to pare, prune, or privatize this country’s most effective government program, remember this: Saving Social Security for future generations — even with higher payroll taxes — is far more popular than any of them ever will be.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, Seniors, Social Security | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Radical Racist Socialism Of The Deep South”: Denials That The Civil War Was About Slavery Are Revisionist And False

With the American South so radically conservative and politically divergent from most of the rest of the country, it’s easy to forget that it was not always so. The American South used to be much more politically nuanced and politically complicated.

Obviously, the legacy of racism and slavery dominates everything. Southern denials that the Civil War was about slavery are revisionist and false, as Ta-Nehisi Coates conclusively demonstrated at The Atlantic.

But if we compartmentalize and set aside the grotesque and horrific injustice of race-based slavery, we can see that the 19th century South was also a hotbed of anti-capitalist economic egalitarian sentiment–with the caveat that only whites were allowed to receive its benefits. Consider these snippets excerpted by Coates: first, the Muscogee Herald in 1856:

Free Society! we sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the Northern men and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meet with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman’s body servant. This is your free society which Northern hordes are trying to extend into Kansas.

Talk about a hatred of freedom and small business. Or consider this bit of socialism-for-whites-only from traitor-in-chief Jefferson Davis himself:

You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

And finally, this remarkable indictment of Yankee capitalism from Hammond’s legendary “Cotton Is King” speech:

The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South…Your [slaves] are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation.

There are many more examples of this sort of thing in Coates’ piece as well.

It’s easy to focus on the abhorrent racism here. But it’s also instructive to see the anti-capitalist critique of the North, whose laissez-faire robber baronism was admittedly Dickensian in its brutality–not remotely comparable to the evils of slavery, obviously, but it’s easy to see how a twisted racist mind that didn’t see black people as human would see itself as comparatively morally superior to the North by virtue of its white egalitarianism.

This is why the Confederate South was ultimately such a strong base of support for FDR. As long as FDR didn’t prevent lynching and the other modes of de facto enslavement of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South–and he shamefully and deliberately avoided doing so–most Southern whites were more than happy to take the benefits of Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New Deal in general. The benefits of these programs were generally not shared with blacks, so Southern whites found an easy continuation of their economic ideology in sticking it to the Northern capitalists with economic redistribution.

The transformation that occurred in the 1960s was much greater than a simple political realignment in which the vast majority of Southern whites switched from Democrats to Republicans after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. They also experienced a far more profound shift in their economic politics.

Forced to choose between their virulent racism and their embrace of progressive economic politics, most former Confederate whites chose to keep their racism. Redistributed benefits were all well and good when that egalitarianism extended only to themselves–but extend those same benefits to the hated underclass, and taxation becomes theft and tyranny. FDR socialists became Ayn Rand libertarians essentially overnight.

It’s important to remember that fact when we talk about the legacy of institutional racism in the United States. We’re talking about a hatred so profound that an entire demographic didn’t just switch political parties on a dime: it switched generations of populist economic ideology as well.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 27, 2015

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Conservatives, Deep South, Slavery | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Long, Long Battle For Health Care Reform”: The Single Defining Goal Of American Progressivism For More Than A Century

So in this week of epochal Supreme Court opinions, even health policy wonks would not claim that King v. Burwell can match Obergefell v. Hodges in terms of its historical significance. There’s a reason the latter is stimulating spontaneous outbreaks of happiness among people who aren’t political and don’t follow constitutional law.

But at Vox today, Dylan Matthews reminds us that of the incredibly long hard path this country has followed to reach even the Affordable Care Act’s first timorous steps towards universal health coverage. Those conservatives who talk as though no one has ever seriously considered such a socialist abomination until now really are betraying their ignorance about history:

National health insurance has been the single defining goal of American progressivism for more than a century. There have been other struggles, of course: for equality for women, African-Americans, and LGBT people; for environmental protection; against militarism in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But ever since its inclusion in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose platform, a federally guaranteed right to health coverage has been the one economic and social policy demand that loomed over all others. It was the big gap between our welfare state and those of our peers in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

And for more than a century, efforts to achieve national health insurance failed. Roosevelt’s third-party run came up short. His Progressive allies, despite support from the American Medical Association, failed to pass a bill in the 1910s. FDR declined to include health insurance in the Social Security Act, fearing it would sink the whole program, and the Wagner Act, his second attempt, ended in failure too. Harry Truman included a single-payer plan open to all Americans in his Fair Deal set of proposals, but it went nowhere. LBJ got Medicare and Medicaid done after JFK utterly failed, but both programs targeted limited groups.

Richard Nixon proposed a universal health-care plan remarkably similar to Obamacare that was killed when then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) walked away from a deal to pass it, in what Kennedy would later call his greatest regret as a senator. Jimmy Carter endorsed single-payer on the campaign trail, but despite having a Democratic supermajority in Congress did nothing to pass it. And the failure of Bill Clinton’s health-care plan is the stuff of legend.

Yes, Obamacare haters may dismiss the experience of virtually every other wealthy country by intoning “American exceptionalism”, as though we have some long-cherished right to die young that’s as essential to the national character as unlimited possession of guns. But this has been a constant issue in our own country, too, and it’s a token of how far our political system has drifted to the right that redeeming the vision of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Richard Nixon strikes so many people as a horrifying lurch into socialism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Extremely Progressive Agenda”: How Hillary Clinton’s Kickoff Speech Highlighted Her Advantage Over Republicans

Hillary Clinton gave the first major speech of her presidential campaign on Roosevelt Island in New York City, and while it wasn’t quite as heavy on biography as the campaign had led reporters to believe in the past couple of days, it was probably a good preview of what Clinton’s entire campaign will be like: lots of policy talk, with just enough personal content to paint a portrait of a candidate who both advocates for regular people and is a regular person — or, to paraphrase something President Obama once said about her, is regular enough.

This speech, like much of what Clinton does now, is about creating a synthesis out of two related goals or ideas. She wants to energize liberals in a way that also wins independents. She wants to advocate an economic agenda that will be substantively compelling and also creates a personal affinity with voters. It’s Clinton’s good fortune that she has at least the opportunity to do both at the same time.

Presidential candidates come in two basic types: those who can tell a story of personal struggle and those who can tell their relatives’ story of personal struggle. For one of the first times, today Clinton told how her mother was abandoned by her own parents and started supporting herself as a teenager. The point of these stories is to tell people, “I’m just like you.” I understand your struggles and your challenges, and I’ll advocate on your behalf. The truth is that there’s absolutely no relationship between whether a candidate was rich as a child or is rich now and what kinds of policies she’ll pursue as president. But we can conceive of this relationship between the personal and political as a 2 x 2 array with one bad quadrant, one good quadrant and two that could go either way. Here’s my liberally biased version with an example for each, placing Hillary Clinton where she’s trying to place herself:

Two by two 2

So FDR was a wealthy scion who championed the cause of the downtrodden, while Scott Walker came from modest circumstances but advocates the interests of the wealthy and corporations. Mitt Romney was a rich guy whom Americans came to believe cared only about rich people, a deadly combination. Clinton is someone who grew up middle-class and is now rich but who would prefer you think of her as a person just like you. Her policy case makes her personal case more persuasive, whereas someone like Walker has to deal with the tension between his personal story and the beneficiaries of his policies.

Of course, personal affinity isn’t all about economic class, and Clinton is obviously counting on women in particular to feel a bond with her and come out to vote. As she said in her speech, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I’ll be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.” But while that may have been her biggest applause line, the speech was laden with policy talk, much of it about the economy.

And while some of the positions she mentioned have been more fully fleshed-out than others, what it added up to was an extremely progressive agenda: paid family leave, affordable college education, more infrastructure investments, renewable energy, universal preschool, expanding broadband access and a lot more — all of it wrapped in populist rhetoric (the part about 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers seemed to hit a chord).

And I’d challenge Republicans to look at the policy proposals in the speech and say about any of them, “Oh boy, the general electorate isn’t going to go for that.” Which highlights one important way in which Clinton’s path to the White House is easier than that of her potential GOP opponents. They have multiple areas where the goals of winning over Republican primary voters and setting themselves up to assemble a general election coalition are at odds. They need to sound tough on immigration now, but that will hurt them with Hispanic voters next fall. They need to proclaim that the Affordable Care Act must be totally repealed, when most Americans would prefer to make it work better. They need to oppose things like paid leave, minimum wage increases and imposing restrictions on Wall Street bankers, all of which are extremely popular. And they need to do it all while arguing that they understand regular folks and will be their advocates.

Americans might or might not buy that Hillary Clinton is just like them. But the truth is that she could get elected even if most of them don’t, which is something the Republicans probably can’t say.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 13, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Attack On Retired Poor And Middle-Class People”: The Real Reason Social Security Is The Third Rail Of American Politics

Chris Christie still harbors hopes of becoming the Republican nominee for president, and in search of a way to convince conservatives that he’s one of them—and reinforce the idea that he’s a bold truth-teller who doesn’t care whose feathers he ruffles, and you might not agree with him but you’ll always know he’s telling it like it is—Christie has announced a plan to cut Social Security benefits. He would do it in two ways. First, he would means-test benefits, reducing them for those who have over $80,000 in income and phasing them out entirely past $200,000 in income. Second, he would raise the retirement age to 69 (it’s currently 66 and will soon rise to 67).

As Matt Yglesias explains, the cut in upper-income benefits is getting most of the attention, which works to Christie’s benefit because it sounds like his plan hurts rich people. But in fact, the number of people affected would be fairly small, while increasing the retirement age would be devastating to people of modest incomes. That’s particularly true of people who do manual labor, which in your late 60s becomes increasingly difficult. So Christie is proposing a plan that is actually an attack on retired poor and middle-class people, but it’s being described as an attack on the rich.

I should point out that even means-testing benefits can be a clever way to undermine the program as a whole. It eliminates the understanding that it’s a program for everyone and instead changes it to a program just for people of modest incomes, which then opens it up to further cuts and changes in the future. This is why most liberals oppose means-testing, even though it sounds like something they would support.

In any case, I want to return to this idea that Chris Christie is willing to tell the hard truths. Every story about Social Security mentions that it is the “third rail of American politics,” meaning you can’t touch it without being zapped. Anyone who would do so naturally deserves praise for their courage and for doing what’s right despite the risk. But why is touching Social Security dangerous?

It isn’t because of some magical incantation that FDR spoke over the bill as he signed it. It’s because, with the possible exception of Medicare, Social Security is the most successful and therefore beloved social program in American history. Before Social Security, aging was almost a guarantee of falling into poverty. If you’re below a certain age, you’ve probably never heard the cliché of old ladies eating cat food to survive, but at one time in America that was an actual thing.

But don’t we need to do something before Social Security goes broke? No. Social Security is not going broke, and if we want to fix the funding problems that we will confront a few decades from now there are relatively easy ways to do it; I discussed that years ago in this piece, and not much has changed since.

But back to Christie: Is it courageous to propose a policy change that would be tremendously cruel to millions of Americans? I guess it is in a way. But that doesn’t make it praiseworthy.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The Merican Prospect, April 16, 2015

April 19, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Poor and Low Income, Social Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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