A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“He can accomplish what Republicans only dream about.”
President Obama and his Republican partners in austerity have choreographed a kind of bi-partisan ballet, in which the dancers reach out to each other in slow motion, their fingers almost touching, teasing the audience. These cheap and transparent theatrics are designed to transmit a soap opera-like sense of drama: “Can the two parties come to a compromise for the sake of the country?” But, the fact is, Obama and the Republicans reached most of their grand bargain more than a year ago, when they slashed $1.7 trillion out of domestic spending over a decade. As liberal Obamite Robert Kuttner, of Demos, points out, there’s very little left to cut except Medicare and Social Security.
Social Security has always been Obama’s Great White Whale; he’s conspired with Republicans and right-wing Democrats to harpoon the mother of all New Deal programs since the very start of his presidency. But Social Security is not an easy mark. George Bush found that out in his second term, when he suffered his worst domestic defeat in attempting to privatize the program.
It would take a Black Democrat, fresh from a near-landslide election, to put Social Security on the chopping block, as Obama did in January of 2009. But before he could move in for the kill, Obama and his allies had to convince the public that Social Security is a major contributor to the federal budget deficit – which is a lie. Social Security runs on its own stream of revenues that go into the Social Security Trust Fund, totally separate from general taxation and debt. However, by endless repetition of the Big Lie – that Social Security adds to the federal deficit – Obama and other corporate Democrats and Republicans succeeded in maneuvering the program into the austerity debate, where it does not belong.
“Social Security runs on its own stream of revenues.”
At this point it must be said that Obama’s insistence on making Social Security a budget deficit issue shows that he has always intended to make drastic cuts to the program. One of the reasons Social Security has long been thought of as “untouchable” is because President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal Democrats purposely insulated it from the conventional budget process. However, President Obama has largely neutered Social Security’s traditional congressional defenders, who know perfectly well what their president is up to, but will not directly oppose him. That’s why we at Black Agenda Report call Obama “the more effective evil”; he can accomplish what Republicans only dream about.
Obama’s scheme to cripple Social Security is to change the way inflation is measured, resulting in a drastic scale-back in cost-of-living increases in recipients. According to Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the cuts would amount to 3 percent over 10 years, 6 percent over 20 years, and 9 percent over 30 years. In dollar terms, Black Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison says retirees would lose $6,000 in the first 15 years of cuts and $16,000 over 25 years.
And that’s just the beginning. Once the untouchability of Social Security has been breached, it becomes just another social program to be carved up on austerity chopping blocks. President Obama’s true legacy will be to have begun the destruction of the crown jewel of what’s left of the nation’s social safety net.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]