Read It And Weep
William Grieder has written a must-read article for the Nation on the impending Grand Bargain. Considering the recent article in Politico saying that the left is trusting of Obama on the issue, (which I heard very much reflects the administration's thinking) this is particularly relevant:
Defending Social Security sounds like yesterday's issue--the fight people won when they defeated George W. Bush's attempt to privatize the system in 2005. But the financial establishment has pushed it back on the table, claiming that the current crisis requires "responsible" leaders to take action. Will Obama take the bait? Surely not. The new president has been clear and consistent about Social Security, as a candidate and since his election. The program's financing is basically sound, he has explained, and can be assured far into the future by making only modest adjustments.
But Obama is also playing footsie with the conservative advocates of "entitlement reform" (their euphemism for cutting benefits). The president wants the corporate establishment's support on many other important matters, and he recently promised to hold a "fiscal responsibility summit" to examine the long-term costs of entitlements. That forum could set the trap for a "bipartisan compromise" that may become difficult for Obama to resist, given the burgeoning deficit. If he resists, he will be denounced as an old-fashioned free-spending liberal. The advocates are urging both parties to hold hands and take the leap together, authorizing big benefits cuts in a circuitous way that allows them to dodge the public's blame. In my new book, Come Home, America, I make the point: "When official America talks of 'bipartisan compromise,' it usually means the people are about to get screwed."
The Social Security fight could become a defining test for "new politics" in the Obama era. Will Americans at large step up and make themselves heard, not to attack Obama but to protect his presidency from the political forces aligned with Wall Street interests? This fight can be won if people everywhere raise a mighty din--hands off our Social Security money!--and do it now, before the deal gains momentum. Popular outrage can overwhelm the insiders and put members of Congress on notice: a vote to gut Social Security will kill your career. By organizing and agitating, people blocked Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. Imagine if he had succeeded--their retirement money would have disappeared in the collapsing stock market.
The article goes on to explain (again) how the social security system is more than solvent and goes over the beginnings of the impending bait and switch back in the Reagan era and talks about the Pete Peterson crusade that is leading this charge.
After this past couple of weeks, one hopes that the administration has recognized that you can't bargain with political sociopaths. But I agree with Greider that "the left" would be stupid to take for granted that Obama will never go near social security and that the only guarantee is for the people to generate a mighty fit that will make their heads spin --- before the idea gets entrenched. This is a classic shock doctrine move which depends upon an elite consensus and a confused and stressed populace to be carried out.
Update: Here's John Judis from The New Republic pretty much laying out the case that if the economy gets worse it's -- guess what -- "the left's" fault for not being more shrill. You just can't win with the New Republic. But he does have a point.