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In Politics, Nothing Happens by Accident

Roman Berry's picture

“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 his 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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mass's picture
Submitted by mass on

as Kuttner did recently when he referred to Bill Clinton as a "leading proponent of privatizing social security". You all need more than one citation to make a legitimate case. No one outside of those who take "The Pact" as gospel actually consider Bill Clinton even a proponent of privatizing social security. Oddly, in this post Kuttner reminds readers that Bill Clinton didn't blink when it came to protecting Medicare. Indeed, he allowed Gingrich to shut down the federal government to avoid draconian cuts to Medicare. This doesn't mesh well with the Bill Clinton big time social security privatizer characterization. So, I'm left wondering what to believe. Obama has always characterized social security as a "crisis" with all options "on the table". He tried to force Congress to agree to up or down votes on the recommendations of his deficit commission and when that didn't happen he stacked his commission with known social security opponents. On top of that, he just became the first US President to successfully lobby for a bill that uses the general fund to fund social security. I think it's a threat. However, when people making this argument rely on Bill Clinton and "The Pact" to make their case, I pause.

I think liberals should be organizing against social security cuts now, but not because of anything to do with Bill Clinton or his impeachment.

Roman Berry's picture
Submitted by Roman Berry on

I reference Obama. Repeatedly. I find the obsession some seem to have about trying to discredit Gillon's "The Pact" because it conflicts with their cherished view of Clinton to be just as bizarre as the obsession the Obama crowd has with trying to discredit everything that shows him for what he is.

Bill Clinton is not a progressive. Never was. But this diary isn't about Bill Clinton. And even if it were, there's no ground to dispute that the triumvirate of Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles and Pete Peterson were on the Danforth Commission, that their views on Social Security were well and widely known, and the President Obama has brought all three of them back. Think he had a preferred result in mind when he did that? You know that he did.

You don't like the references to Gillon's book? Fine. It's not essential to the point, and it hardly weakens the case I make to include it.

BTW, out of curiosity, do you have actually have something which discredits Gillon? I have to ask, because all the people at FDL and at Kos who used that same line simply repeated it over and over. Not one had anything to cast doubt. From your comment, it doesn't appear that you actually have anything either.

Roman Berry's picture
Submitted by Roman Berry on

...obsessed with Clinton. As I said, this diary isn't about Bill Clinton. And you STILL haven't supplied anything at all to discredit Gillon.

You're looking for a massive fail? Look at your critique. There's nothing behind it. At all.

BTW, this isn't college, and my post wasn't a term paper.

Let me know when you have something substantive with respect to Gillon. Right now, you just don't.

mass's picture
Submitted by mass on

actual record to suggest a move to privatize social security, and indeed, what we do have is a record that includes a showdown with Newt Gingrich to protect Medicare, which doesn't make a strong argument for someone intent on privatizing the other big safety net program. He didn't run on the social security "crisis". He wasted no political capital on it. He didn't support GWB's plans to privatize social security. There's no evidence to support the conclusion that Bill Clinton had plans to privatize social security. And, frankly, Monica Lewinsky didn't just happen. There was an enormous effort on the part of Republicans lead by Newt Gingrich to discredit and impeach the President and they created the Monica Lewinsky affair as an impeachable offense. I find it hard to believe that the Republicans had a Democratic President ready to privatize social security whom they instead decided to impeach.

Submitted by lambert on

So while I agree the Clinton record is important, we're dealing with a very fast-moving, ruthless, and effective administration. Obama needs to be the focus, not Clinton.

(If there's a narrative that weaves them all together, since they're all neoliberals, I'd love to see it, because I'd love to see the Clinton permathread laid to rest.)

NOTE The Rs were going to get Clinton regardless. It was a slow-moving, media-fuelled coup that culminated in FL 2000 and Bush v. Gore. So I can't see the Lewinsky matter being significant. They'd already trumped up Whitewater, and there was at least one other ginned up sexual harassment charge. So if it hadn't been Lewinsky, it would have been something else.