Independent Elders And The Deficit

by digby

I'm listening to Matthews, Fineman and Cook obsess about the "independents" as if this is the first time they've ever noticed them. (Oy -- "independents" are the new "values voters.")

Fineman points out that the crosstabs on the new Gallup poll shows that Obama is doing fine with younger independents up to about age 55 but has lost all those over 55 who are obsessed with the deficit. Here's how Matthews and company explain what's going on:
Matthews: So it's interesting, what's hurt the president is two things, just to get the policy problem, or the people around him, there's two concerns people have, people who read the papers and the older people especially who have the time to do that, worried about money, because they're trying to keep it.They're worried about the debt. They're worried about deficits growing. People who are in their earning years, people who are 40 and 30, 25 out there and are trying to make a buck, those people are worried about jobs.

Here's the conflict, the rub if you will. If the president goes out and spends more money to create jobs, he runs up the deficit. If he holds back and makes the deficit conscious people happy, no more jobs. So he has to decide who he wants to appeal to in the next year, right?

If you're Larry Summers and Rahm Emmanuel, and Joe Biden, they're sitting around advising the president, "Mr President, you have to make up your mind here. You have to decide if you're going with the working people, 30 or 40 years old who are trying to make a buck, or worry about the older people." If you're just talking in terms of politics. ..

Charlie Cook: Clearly there's a squeeze play going on. Do something about the economy and jobs vs don't aggravate the deficit.Don't expand the...

Matthews: Which way are they leaning now? I think they're leaning towards doing nothing.

Cook: Well, I'm not sure which is doing nothing ...

Matthews: not creating jobs by spending money

Cook: Well the thing is, if you're just looking at it politically, old people vote midterm elections and young people don't.

Matthews: Therefore, worry about the deficit.

Cook: In a midterm election if you only cared about politics that would be it

Fineman: But the complicating part of that is that you want your hardcore base to come out in a midterm election and that's why Barack Obama ..

Matthews: Older white people tend to vote Republican ...

Fineman: So that's why he's focusing on trying to get this healthcare bill passed. The problem is that as he focuses on it, older Americans are scared about cuts in Medicare which the Republicans are talking about extensively. And they're worried about the deficit.

And the wealthy deficit scolds who come out from under the bed anytime someone wants to do anything but kill people and cut taxes are .... what? Concerned senior citizens? Please. To leave out the people who are spending billions to keep the government from delivering anything of value to its citizens is malpractice. (Here's James Galbraith today on that subject.)

But Matthews is fundamentally correct in his simplistic assessment of the electorate. The older white people don't like government spending and the younger people are desperate for it. But why is it that these older Americans, of all people, would be so worried about the deficit? They won't, after all, be here when the bill comes due. While they may say that they care about future generations, you'd think that watching their own children struggle in their peak earning years and lose their dream of a successful future (and watching their grandkids have to leave school because they can't afford the 32% hike in their tuition) would tug just a teeny bit at their allegedly generous heart strings.

Let's face it. A good number of them are just conservatives who never liked Obama and just believe in their guts that he and the tax and spend hippies are going to give their Medicare to the blacks and Mexicans. But a lot of other older people just feel vulnerable and alone and mistrust what they see as hyperactive, neglectful youngsters who are driving the world into chaos. They are excellent targets for con artists, scammers and demagogues --- and at this point conservatives are pretty much defined by those terms. There is no greater elder scam than to trouble them with unfounded fears of deficit forecasts and social security shortfalls decades in the future. (You should see the horrible mail these old people get from the right wingers.)

But where else are the Republicans going to get voters? Young people think they're clowns. Racial and ethnic minorities know very well they hate them. Women can't stand them. The only place they have to go is to those among the frightened older population who they can con into believing that the black president is trying to kill them. No other demographic out there beyond their crazy base believes anything they say.

But the fallacy of Matthews' and Cooks' argument is that Obama could possibly appease these people by "addressing" the deficit. As Krugman pointed out a while back:

[T]here are very good odds that even if Obama exhibited iron fiscal discipline, voters wouldn’t notice. There’s a remarkable, depressing paper by Achen and Bartels that includes an analysis of voter views of the deficit in 1996 — by which time the huge deficit that Bill Clinton inherited had been drastically reduced. Here’s what voters thought they knew:

Yep: after one of the biggest moves toward budget balance in history, a majority of Republicans, and a plurality of all voters, believed that deficits had increased.

Not to put too fine a point on it: if Obama succeeded in reducing the deficit, would Fox News or the Washington Times report it?

No. And the minute they did, the Republicans would start caterwauling about tax cuts and "it's yer muneee" and some greenspan figure would sagely tell everyone that surpluses will kill the economy the whole thing would start all over again anyway. That's the big scam.

The deficit scolds are not sincere (and the average Joes out there who fret over them are either deluded or lying.) It not just the Peter Petersons, but also the Larry Summers, Bob Rubin people who are always finding new rationales for the same ends. The people pulling the strings are the ones who have a direct, personal stake in keeping the government weak and disrespected and the deficit cudgel is just one of many weapons in their large arsenal. It sure isn't poor old people who stand to gain anything by "deficit reduction."

Unsurprisingly, the whole Village has, overnight, worked itself into a slobbering tizzy over deficits, just as the administration is contemplating how to deal with the massive, growing unemployment problem. Who could have predicted such a thing?