I spent the week trying to think of new and novel ways to call the president stupid for putting a Social Security benefit cut into his budget, because coughing up this Chained CPI thing raced into the Unforced Political Errors Hall Of Fame so fast it left skid marks and smoke, and is currently jostling elbows with Nixon firing Archie Cox and Clinton offering the intern a cigar for the marquee spot at the top of the list.
Think I'm exaggerating? Serving up a cut to Social Security benefits - and it is a cut, no matter what the Smart People tell you - was galactically stupid from a tactical perspective. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the anointed mouthpiece for the GOP's House re-election campaign, has already called the president's budget a "shocking attack," and accused the White House of "trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors."
Get ready for a lot more of that.
Never mind the hypocrisy of Republicans attacking the president for doing exactly what they wanted him to do - a comprehensive lack of shame is, after all, the GOP's greatest political strength - and remember the 2010 midterm elections, when the Republicans ran a very similar game against Obama regarding Medicare and very nearly took over all of Congress.
Every Democrat running for re-election in 2014 will have this stinking dead albatross hanging around their neck, and the smart ones are already putting daylight between themselves and the White House. Feature this response to the president's budget proposal from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN): "They cannot lay that dead cat at our door. I don't know how it's going to affect the president's brand, but it would be completely unfair to affect the House Democratic Caucus brand, because we had nothing to do with it and most of us are affirmatively and explicitly against it."
If you're in the business of getting anyone with a (D) after their name elected in 2014, it's time to start stocking up on canned goods and survival gear when an excellent Democrat like Keith Ellison gets to talking about dead cats and "the president's brand" in the same breath. The rest of us get to spend the coming election cycle watching this communication -deficient administration try to square that circle with seniors who will already be terrified by the GOP's blistering message campaign. The best answer the White House will be able to conjure is, "Yeah, cutting Social Security benefits was in our budget, but we didn't really mean it, it was only a negotiating tactic, trust us."
Quiz: which political demographic shows up in great numbers for mid-term elections?
Do the math.
The single biggest impediment to this administration's agenda is the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and with this budget proposal, President Obama obliterated any chance the Democrats have of reclaiming that chamber at a time when the Republican Party is very publicly flying apart at the seams. An opportunity of historic proportions was available here - not just in this election cycle, but in the next one, and the one after that - to beat back the madness of these deliberately destructive conservatives at a time when they are falling upon each other like sharks in a blood pool. All Mr. Obama had to do was hold his coalition together, a task easily within his means.
Instead, he threw a live hand grenade at his own people. A Democratic president has put Social Security on the negotiating table. The fact of it is offensive in itself, whether or not this budget ever sees the light of day. Rank-and-file Democrats are astonished at this turn of events; it is a profound betrayal from a president who was re-elected on the promise to defend that which he now offers as fodder in a deficit debate that should not include Social Security to begin with.
See, all the "responsible" people in Washington DC and the "news" media push very hard on the idea that working people have to eat cuts to the benefits they've already paid for, because these responsible people think that is the only responsible way to be responsible about the deficit. William Greider explains why that whole argument is howling nonsense:
Again and again, self-righteous critics have portrayed Social Security as the profligate monster borrowing from the Treasury and sucking the life out of federal government.
Guess what? It's the other way around. The federal government borrows from Social Security. The Treasury has been borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund for 30 years, and the debt to Social Security beneficiaries now totals nearly $3 trillion. The day is approaching when that money will be needed for its original purpose: paying Social Security benefits to the working people who contributed to the fund.
That is the real crisis that makes the financial barons and their media collaborators so anxious to cut Social Security benefits. They would like to get out of repaying the debt-that is, giving the money back to the people who earned it. The only way to do this is cut the benefits-over and over again. Count on it. If the president and Congress succeed in this malicious scheme, they will come back again and again to cut more and more.
Mr. Obama has, finally and forever, joined the club. He has sided with the people who stole the Social Security trust, and who now argue that the only "responsible" thing to do is to make old, sick people pay the freight for that theft. They don't want to pay back what they took, and the president has chosen to play their game. He did not have to do this - indeed, he was elected twice on the promise to defend what he now begs to give away - but he did it anyway, and in doing so, he sold out the people who put him where he is.
A lot of people still think George W. Bush was stupid, and a failure as president. All he did was translate billions of taxpayer dollars into the bank accounts of his friends by way of tax cuts and war profiteering. He was not stupid. In fact, one can argue that, according to the metrics of those he most closely represented, Mr. Bush was the most successful president in American history.
Mr. Obama is not stupid, either.
It was no mistake, and according to the metrics of those Mr. Obama most closely represents, this will also be considered a success. The final attack on Social Security has begun, and it was a Democratic president who struck the blow. Even if his budget goes nowhere, or is voted down by his fellow Democrats, the deed is done.