Saturday, February 16, 2013

Obama, conservative White House policies, and progressives drawing red lines

Digby has an important post in which she lays out the statistics on the Obama Administration's record on prosecution of gun crimes, deportations and prosecutions of medical marijuana businesses, What do they really believe? Who knows? 02/16/2013.

She relates this to the present-day lack of credibility this Administration has among the Democratic base on hard negotiations over gun regulation, comprehensive immigration reform and other issues. The persistent excuse of Administration loyalists is some versions of, the Republicans made us do it. But there is scant evidence that any of those actions increase the willingness of Republicans to compromise with Democratic positions on those issues, or played any important role in capturing swing voters for Democrats across the country, or even helped helped the Blue Dog Democrats remaining in Congress. In fact, the Blue Dogs presence has decreased. Digby writes:

So, if it was a political decision it was wrong on every level. And if the administration believes these policies are good ones, they are misleading the American people about who they are. If the police agencies are out of control, they should do something to bring them under control. I don't know the answer. But however you look at it, it isn't good.

At the very least, it explains why so many people are reluctant to trust that the administration is only doing what it has to do in response to a hostile opposition. They didn't have to do any of these things. But they did them.
Obama is essentially a conservative Democrat, which means that his policies on the whole are more thoughtful and less destructive than the Radical Republicans, who pass for "conservative" in the American political vocabulary.

Another angle from which to view American politics is that, in historical and world comparisons, the US has a radical-right party, the Republicans, who ironically in much of the world would be referred to as a rightwing liberal party, the "liberal" designating the hardline "free market" ideology.

The Democrats on the whole are a center-right party, not least because of the implications of the US foreign policy of global hegemony. But not only the three policies on which Digby focuses in that post but also on civil liberties, government secrecy/transparency, and austerity economics, the Democratic Party with Obama as its leader is generally a center-right party.

However, the Democrats contain a liberal (American meaning)/progressive group, probably more accurate to call it a "tendency" or something similar than a faction, both at the state levels, in Congress, and, in the form of national unions and various issue groups, nationally. Also critically important, the Democratic Party, center-right though it may be, depends on a liberal/progressive constituency and so cannot entirely ignore our concerns.

One factor that I don't think has received enough attention is the effect that the Progressive Caucus' handling of the public option on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) played out. Dozens of Representatives signed a declaration that the public option was a red line for them to support what was already a market-based, neoliberal version of national health insurance. Without it, they wouldn't support the ACA.

But Obama agreed in 2009 with insurance and health-care lobbyists to drop the public option. And the Progressive Caucus and the signers of that declaration went along. Whether or not one thinks that's a good vote on the merits, it's difficult to believe that it didn't drastically reduce the credibility of Congressional progressives. The Blue Dogs were willing to vote with Republicans against the ACA over the public option. The progressives were not willing to vote against it over the public option. Even though there were more progressives that declared the public option a red line for them, they caved before the Blue Dogs did.

Until the White House has to worry more about losing legislation it wants due to progressive opposition than to Blue Dog opposition, it will pay more attention to the dwindling number of Blue Dogs than to progressives, especially since all indications are that Obama's progressive aspirations don't extend much beyond the elegant words of his speeches. (James Fallows makes some interesting observations about his speeches, which is that even though everyone things they're wonderful, not a lot of individual statements from them stick with the listeners, in Why Obama Never Said 'Not Red States or Blue States but the United States...' The Atlantic 02/17/2013). Obama's inclinations are to side with corporate interests and Blue Dogs much more so than with progressives. Until the progressives can find a way to shift that calculation more in their directions, that will continue.

That's why I think it's so very important that Democratic support for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid not wind up the way the Progessive Caucus' support for the public option did. And by "support," I mean opposition to cuts in benefits on any of those programs.

Will Wrigley reports on the letter signed bySocSec/Medicare/Medicaid supporters in, Obama Warned On Social Security Reform By House Democrats The Huffington Post 02/15/2013. But it only works if Obama knows that his agenda will pay a real political price for attempting to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Which is both terrible policy on its substance and suicidal politics for Democrats.

The letter of 02/15/2013 is available available on Congressman Keith Ellison's website, signed by a majority of Democratic Representatives, which states:

We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits in any final bill to replace sequestration. Earned Social Security and Medicare benefits provide the financial and health protections necessary to keep individuals and families out of poverty. Medicaid is not only a lifeline for low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and families, it is the primary source of long-term care services and supports for 3.6 million individuals. We cannot overstate their importance for our constituents and our country.

That is why we remain deeply opposed to proposals to reduce Social Security benefits through use of the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living adjustments. We remain committed to making the changes that will extend solvency for 75 years, but Social Security has not contributed to our current fiscal problems and it should not be on the bargaining table.

Similarly, we oppose proposals to increase Medicare cost-sharing requirements or to raise the age of eligibility. Half of all Medicare recipients live on less than $22,000 a year – yet they spend, on average, three times as much of those limited incomes on health care as other Americans. Raising their already heavy cost-sharing burden or increasing the age of eligibility doesn’t lower health care costs, it just shifts them to those who can least afford more financial burdens – seniors, people with disabilities and their families.
Any Democrat in Congress, Representative or Senator, who votes for any cut in benefits for Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid should face a strong primary challenge in 2014. If the Democrats aren't going to defend those programs, then it's time to get Democrats elected who will.

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