Dean Baker’s commentary on the deficit scolds and Social Security makes for provocative reading. An excerpt:
It is remarkable that social security hasn’t been a more prominent issue in the presidential race. After all, Governor Romney has proposed a plan that would imply cuts of more than 40% for middle-class workers just entering the labor force. Since social security is hugely popular across the political spectrum, it would seem that President Obama could gain an enormous advantage by clearly proclaiming his support for the program.
But President Obama has consistently refused to rise to the defense of social security. In fact, in the first debate, he explicitly took the issue off the table, telling the American people that there is not much difference between his position on social security and Romney’s [...]
But there is another set of economic considerations affecting the politics of social security. These considerations involve the economics of the political campaigns and the candidates running for office. The story here is a simple one: while social security may enjoy overwhelming support across the political spectrum, it does not poll nearly as well among the wealthy people – who finance political campaigns and own major news outlets. The predominant philosophy among this group is that a dollar in a workers’ pocket is a dollar that could be in a rich person’s pocket – and these people see social security putting lots of dollars in the pockets of people who are not rich.
Basically, Baker implies that a stance of defending Social Security lowers your campaign contributions and labels you as “unserious” in major media. You can see this in the Washington Post’s endorsement of President Obama, mainly because he “understands the urgency of the (deficit) problems as well as anyone in the country and is committed to solving them in a balanced way.” They almost entirely based their endorsement on the likelihood of Obama reaching a deficit deal over Romney. And the Post ed board describes that “balanced way” as a combination of “entitlement reform and revenue increases.” There’s really no greater avatar of the DC elite mindset than Fred Hiatt’s scribbling crew.
It’s hard to disagree with the proposition that politicians get a bonus from elites for “daring” to talk about Social Security cuts. Considering that the cuts wouldn’t have any bearing on their personal lives, there’s nothing all that daring about it.
I don’t think that this absolves politicians from blame for wanting to destroy our social insurance programs at a time of rampant inequality, when such insurance is needed more than ever. It does provide context to it. And it suggests the enormity of the task of those who would seek to change our politics.