It’s Only Because Presidents Don’t Give Enough Speeches

After 20 years of lavishly funded Pain Caucus campaigns, the only people who care about the deficit and favor slashing entitlements are…the same slice of the elite who cared about these things 20 years ago. If only a president had invested a full year trying to sell the public on Social Security privatization I’m sure things would be different.

35 comments on this post.
  1. janastas359:

    On a somewhat related note, I just finished reading through that old Vast Left post for the first time and holy hell, I fell like I need a drink after reading some of those leftier than thou posts. Yeesh.

  2. James E. Powell:

    What is especially galling is that Pete Peterson and others like him and whatever they want to call their organizations are always represented in the press/media as civic-minded, concerned about the old folks, worried that the system will go broke. The truth is that they hate social security, they have always hated it, and have worked for years to convince politicians and voters that social security should be destroyed.

    I wouldn’t mind their writing Op-Eds or appearing on shows if they were properly identified as people who want to destroy social security.

  3. Sly:

    According to Ryan Grim and Paul Blumenthal, Peterson’s four-year commitment to his new foundation totaled $458 million.

    I don’t know if that qualifies as the most expensive act of public masturbation ever, but it has got to be up there.

    Also, too:

    Walker sat down as Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the finance committee, rose to give his speech. Half of the text consisted of football analogies. The other half reiterated the Democrats’ desire to raise the top tax rate and raise the debt limit with no strings—and to defend entitlements by attacking health care costs, not payouts. “Shifting costs to seniors is not the solution,” said Baucus. It sounded like Peterson et al had constructed a Trojan horse, then failed to pay attention as the Greeks piled inside.

    Deficit wankery by Republicans since Democrats took over the executive has to be one of the all time political blunders of the modern era, right up with George Bush getting us involved in a land war in Asia. Not only are they going to get nothing out of it, but they’re going to lose their chief domestic policy victory of this century.

  4. Andy:

    The serendipitous nature of how the Bush tax cuts ended up playing out is truly bizarre, considering the enormity of the fiscal consequences for the country and the Republican party. It all could have easily gone much differently.

    Remember the Bush tax cuts were passed via Reconciliation – simple majority vote with the requirement of 10 year expiration – 2 weeks before the Senate went back to Democratic control in June 2012 via the Jim Jeffords defection. The GOP strategy was to get the cuts in place no matter their temporary nature – once in place, the political dynamic switched in favor of the cuts being the status quo – and a fait accompli – any change would entail politically difficult votes for a tax increase. It was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable GOP permanent majority to emerge within the 10 years and revisit the cuts and make them permanent. Easy-peasey.

    The 2004 elections gave the GOP the “mandate” and the political control in Congress to get the job done. Funny thing bout the Bush Administration – remember Andy Card’s dictum about marketers launching new initiatives after Labor Day…

    After wasting a good chunk of 2005 pitching social security privatization “reform” (anybody else get a deja vu last week when the GOP expected the Dems to put forward and own a politically unpopular GOP initiative? These guys never change), the GOP Congressional leadership announced that it would take up making the Bush cuts permanent when Congress returned from its August recess the week after Labor Day.

    But we all remember what happened Labor Day weekend 2005 – Katrina hit.

    It was considered unseemly to vote to give tax cuts to the rich while New Orleans drowned so the vote was indefinitely postponed. They never got back to it in the post-Katrina political climate and the run-up to the 2006 elections and that was that after Democrats took back control.

    But it very easily could have ended up much differently. I guess we have Brownie to thank for that.

    Serendipity.

  5. Reilly:

    On the subject of media blindness to insider agendas, read this Krugman take-down of Politico’s piece from yesterday, Crafting a Boom Economy. And don’t miss Pierce’s take which Krugman links to.

  6. Chatham:

    What should be noted is though previously a buzzfeed article was dismissed for saying that Obama should e-mail his volunteers asking them to call their representatives regarding these negotiations, the Obama team did just that two days ago.

    As for criticism of green lantern-ism in general, I agree with a lot of the criticism I see here that it’s not a silver bullet. I disagree with the criticism that it’s not the silver bullet – that it, in and of itself, can’t change everything – and therefore is pointless. My experience with politics (personal and observational) seems to show that there’s often no silver bullet, and getting things done can require lots and lots of small things, any one of which isn’t necessary (just like an individual vote isn’t necessary for winning most campaigns, but collectively votes are needed).

  7. Hogan:

    Which is the opposite of what the buzzfeed article said (emailing his volunteers is the most powerful tool Obama has, and it’s inexplicable why he hasn’t used it), and that’s why the article was criticized here.

  8. Chatham:

    It’s not the opposite at all. It’s a superlative that was in the headline of the article, and not in the article itself, since the main point was that Obama should use this tool, not that the tool was the most powerful. Hyperbolic? Sure. But not more than many comments about it.

    If you read the comments section again, you’ll see many commentators, including the author of the post, commenting on how such a move (the one Obama in fact just made) wouldn’t be useful.

  9. c u n d gulag:

    This, THIS – people like Peterson and the Koch Brothers – are why we need to go back to Ike era tax rates!!!

    Let them pay lawyers and CPA’s to find loopholes in their 91% top rates, instead of giving their left-over non-taxed money to organizations and “think” tanks trying to undo the 19th and 20th Centuries.

  10. Rarely Posts:

    These people don’t care about the deficit. If they didn’t, they would: (1) be more in favor of tax increases, and particularly rate increases, and (2) support liberals and Democrats, because they are the only politicians who actually try to achieve something like long-term budget balancing.

    Again: they don’t care about the deficit! Where were they when the Bush tax cuts first went through? Don’t give them credit where it’s not due. They just care about cuts to entitlements and lower taxes.

  11. BigHank53:

    I like to ask people if they know who the last two presidents who submitted balanced budgets were. Hint: both of their last names started with “C”.

  12. Chatham:

    Well, we also have such horrible reporters. Good reporters would ask the austerity-heads what’s the difference between their cuts, which are supposed to be so great, and what will happen because of sequestration, which is supposed to be so horrible.

    Good reporters would also ask Republicans how they reconcile spending the last few months saying that Obama cut too much from Medicare, and now are arguing that he needs to cut more.

  13. JRoth:

    If only a president had invested a full year trying to sell the public on Social Security privatization I’m sure things would be different.

    Wiki: “But only after winning re-election in 2004 did he begin to invest his “political capital” in pursuing changes in earnest.”

    [H]e made it clear in his nationally televised January 2005 speech that he intended to work to partially privatize the system during his second term.

    “In late May 2005, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt listed the “priority legislation” to be acted on after Memorial Day; Social Security was not included, and Bush’s proposal was considered by many to be dead.”

    If only 4.5 months constituted “a full year”.

    Bad rhetoric or bullshit? You be the judge.

  14. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    Agreed. The dogmatic insistence that politicians’ rallying public support can make no difference whatsoever is almost as silly as the green lanternism that is its opposite.

    As the OP suggests, speech making is not going to turn massive public opposition into public support. But in a case in which a majority of the public already backs the measure (e.g. raising tax rates on the wealthy), politicians can mobilize the public and put effective pressure on other politicians that can, on the margin, make a difference…especially when other structural factors favor the measure in question (e.g. Congress doesn’t have to do anything to have those rates go up).

  15. Eric:

    Perhaps Scott misstated the length of time Bush spent pushing privatization (although he did continue to talk about it for the rest of his presidency), but the results were likely to be the same. Bush came into the privatization fight with a post-election boost in popularity and increased margins in both houses of Congress. The longer he talked about it, the less popular both Bush and his ideas about Social Security got.

  16. Scott Lemieux:

    Bush wasting a year on green lantern fantasies of destroying Social Security is the really crucial bit of good luck. They surely could have gotten the tax cuts made permanent in 2005 had Bush focused on that.

  17. Scott Lemieux:

    Actually, he was still talking about it in the 2006 SOTU. But, anyway, let’s say he only spent 5 months focused solely on the issue using the tools that according to you would be guaranteed to transform public opinion if Obama used them. It remains true that during this period the plan became less popular. Are you arguing that 6 more months would have been the charm?

  18. Scott Lemieux:

    Both Chatham and IB are once again defending an article that Smith didn’t write. He didn’t say “Obama sending emails to his supporters might have some small effect at the margin.” He said that sending emails was “his most powerful weapon” and “the one step that really matters.”

  19. Njorl:

    From the Buzzfeed piece:

    … the president has not taken the one step that really matters: asking his millions of supporters to deluge their local members of Congress with demands that they pass the president’s policy agenda.

    The headline matches the sentiment of the article.

  20. Murc:

    That’s actually kind of depressing. You’d think Congress would be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

  21. liberal:

    IMHO the Peterson campaign hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful, insofar as polls indicate a huge number of young people think that not only will SS not be funded at a 100% level if nothing is down, it won’t be funded at all.

    Of course, yes, this hasn’t yet born fruit in the form of actual cutbacks.

  22. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    The article compares asking his supporters to contact Congress and asking them to share information about the Bush tax cuts on Twitter and FB. Despite the sentence you quote, the article doesn’t suggest that this is the only thing that Obama could do whatsoever that would matter. It suggests that it’s the only thing that he might ask his millions of supporters to do that might matter. And that doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable claim.

  23. Scott Lemieux:

    “If you ignore the parts of the article where he explicitly and unambiguously makes a stupid Green Lantern argument, the article becomes less stupid.” I concede the point, but I’m not sure why we should be doing that.

  24. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    Scott,

    I happen not to think that the Smith piece says what you say it says, though I actually agree that it probably overstates the power of rallying public support.

    The “most powerful weapon” language is from the headline, not the article. And “the one step that really matters” is within the context of a discussion of “deploy[ing] the campaign’s massive grassroots network, and particularly its e-mail list, to help govern.” That is, Smith is saying that asking his supporters to pressure Congress is the one way to deploy them effectively.

    At any rate, my first comment in this subthread was less about the Smith article and more about the underlying issue: that getting the public to pressure Congress can have quite significant effects on the margins.

  25. Chatham:

    No, I’m agreeing that the hyperbolic statements are incorrect, just as the hyperbolic statements that people think the president can do anything are incorrect. But we had a long discussion in the comments section, where you and others dismissed the effectiveness of what the article suggested and what Obama’s team ended up doing – not just on the writers rhetoric. Focusing now only on semantics instead of having a meaningful discussion of the underlying issue (what political power does a president have?) seems like a waste.

  26. snarkout:

    It’s hard to overstate how prevalent this view was when I (a member of the tail end of the Generation X cohort) was in college; financial reporting just universally asserted, generally without even mentioning it as a background assumption, that Social Security would be gone when I retired, which is why it was so important that I start investing in pets.com and Flooz as soon as possible.

  27. Djur:

    Saying that the House didn’t care about the President’s priorities after five months is not exactly a defense of Green Lanternism. That doesn’t show that the White House had given up on Social Security privatization in May 2005.

  28. Tom Maguire:

    The Slate piece gives strangely short shrift to the deficit hawks of convenience such as Bill Clinton and Paul Krugman.

    Back in, hmm, 1999, Clinton was all about “Save Social Security First”, as an alternative to frittering away the surplus on tax cuts.

    And in 2003 Krugman was terrified about the inevitable hyperinflation that would follow the fiscal train wreck caused by the Bush tax cuts, war,and exploding entitlement spending on Soc Sec/Medicare.

    A snippet:

    That may sound alarmist: right now the deficit, while huge in absolute terms, is only 2 — make that 3, O.K., maybe 4 — percent of G.D.P. But that misses the point. ”Think of the federal government as a gigantic insurance company (with a sideline business in national defense and homeland security), which does its accounting on a cash basis, only counting premiums and payouts as they go in and out the door. An insurance company with cash accounting . . . is an accident waiting to happen.” So says the Treasury under secretary Peter Fisher; his point is that because of the future liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, the true budget picture is much worse than the conventional deficit numbers suggest.

    How will the train wreck play itself out? Maybe a future administration will use butterfly ballots to disenfranchise retirees, making it possible to slash Social Security and Medicare. Or maybe a repentant Rush Limbaugh will lead the drive to raise taxes on the rich. But my prediction is that politicians will eventually be tempted to resolve the crisis the way irresponsible governments usually do: by printing money, both to pay current bills and to inflate away debt.

    Krugman was surely sincere then, even though today’s deficit hawks are simply opportunists and fools.

  29. JL:

    Yeah, the people my age (Millennials) and slightly older that I talk to about this all just sort of assume that Social Security won’t be there for them (whether they think this will be because it will be insolvent or because Republicans will kill it or what). Most of them, though, seem to think the right thing to do is fund it better or provide some other social safety net.

  30. Scott Lemieux:

    It’s not semantics. If the Smith article had said “mobilizing your email list might have some marginal benefits so the president might as well do it” nobody would actually disagree. But this isn’t what the article actually said.

  31. JKTHs:

    Yeah I don’t understand why the prevalent thought for young’uns is that SS will just magically cease to exist for some reason. It’s one of those things that *seems* well-informed to say if you’re poorly informed but it’s really dumb

  32. Chatham:

    Yeah, no one would disagree. Except for all the people – including yourself – who disagreed the last time. Or as you said yourself: “Mobilized to do what? Obama’s supporters already support Obama’s policies.” In case you forgot what was said a week and a half ago, go read those comments again. There was a lot of argument over whether or not “mobilizing your email list might have some marginal benefits so the president might as well do it.”

  33. njorl:

    It also left out Clinton’s blow job, the fact that Paul Krugman is rich and that the Democrats are the party that defended slavery.

  34. Hogan:

    Yeah I don’t understand why the prevalent thought for young’uns is that SS will just magically cease to exist for some reason.

    It’s because boomers suck.

  35. mark f:

    But did Paul Krugman ever get in a fight at school? Does he wear a hoodie? We can’t make up our minds until all facts are in.

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