Sell-Out of the Century?

I would hardly qualify as the Obama campaign’s most important supporter, but I did give several hundred dollars to the campaign, as well as spending numerous hours making phone calls on the President’s behalf.

I did not do this so that the President could raise the Medicare age and retain the lion’s share of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.  But if The Shrill One and Ezra Klein are right, then this precisely what the President is intending to do.

If this is true — and right now it is a very big if — then it represents the greatest sell-out of a winning political coalition since LBJ ran on “not sending American boys to Vietnam.”

Remember when I argued that progressives need to Occupy the White House?  Yep.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

33 thoughts on “Sell-Out of the Century?”

  1. I read this earlier today. If it is true, well, 2014 will be a feckin’ bloodbath with the GOP screaming at all who have ears that Barack Obama took away your Medicare!

    I think it probably is true. It is certainly in character (sic). If the president were a football coach, when he got several touchdowns up he would instruct his offense to punt on second down and his kickoff returner to down the ball after the inevitable subsequent score by the opposition. On his own 5-yard line rather than in the end zone.

    One more thing, JZ. This is exactly what you voted for. Me, too. Hope is not a plan.

    PS: If is more than a trial lead balloon I want the main proprietor of the RBC to explain why it is a good thing. I’m all ears.

    1. It isn’t exactly what most of us voted for because I suspect very few liberals actually voted for Barack Obama but instead voted against having the country run by people who consider the John Birch Society to be mainstream political group composed of genuine patriots. It ins’t exactly surprising, either. As I’ve frequently said, Obama has pursued his grand bargain the way Captain Ahab pursued Moby Dick and in all likelihood with the same disastrous result, too. I will be pleasantly surprised if we can get through Obama’s second term with a reasonable portion of the New Deal intact.

      I agree with you about the dangers of the Republicans running against the Democrats “who took away your Medicare”. A part of the problem is that Obama really is a man obsessed with winning the approval of the Village. I don’t think he has ever had any sort of a policy agenda beyond that. Then, too, he was happy to see the 2010 midterm bloodbath because he thought it made him more of the “adult in the room”. Also, it’s important to remember that he doesn’t seem himself as a Democrat and he doesn’t seem to have the sort of emotional ties to the party that people like Al Gore, Joe Biden and the Clintons have demonstrated. He is his own party, his objective is approval by the Villagers and, having won his own reelection, probably would see another midterm bloodbath for the Democrats as something to be welcomed because it will force Congressional Democrats and the liberal base to accept a Grand Bargain.

  2. Surely you didn’t think that, when the President spoke of having more “flexibility” after the election in that open mike incident, he meant that he’d been avoiding any actions which would piss off conservatives. No, the only kind of flexibility you get after an election is past, is the ability to betray the people who DID vote for you, by doing the things that might have changed their minds.

    Second term policy changes seldom come as a pleasant surprise to a candidate’s own supporters.

    1. Actually, I was pretty sure that what he wanted in his second term was indeed the flexibility to piss of liberals with a welfare state-destroying Grand Bargain that would again allow Republicans to run to the Democrats left in 2014 and 2016 (while still being crazy Birchers) and keep neoliberalism in power for decade. I doubt very seriously whether there’s much of the liberal Democratic base who are looking forward to the second term as the moment when he starts to spend all the “political capital” he supposedly won by his “nouveau accommodationism”. Maybe a few dwindling pockets of dead-enders smugly talking about “eleven dimensional chess” and punctuating their ravings with rallying cries of “meep meep” but there really can’t be many left at this point.

      Nevertheless, an American presidential election is a binary choice, which means that it is sometimes necessary to choice between two undesirable choices. In my mind, Barack Obama was by far the lesser of the two evils. The lesser evil is, by definition, less evil and consequently so is the outcome of the election. I cannot abide having my country run by the John Birch Society, so I voted for Obama and will not try to stop him from implementing his second term agenda and I will try to work towards having a better, more liberal Democratic candidate in 2016. It’s the best I can do.

      1. Typo alert! Actually, I meant to say that even though I voted for Obama, I will nonetheless do everything possible to stop him from implementing his agenda. (As an aside, whatever other changes are being contemplated, the ability for the typographically impaired to change their comments should be very high on the list, please!)

      2. I find that hilarious on two counts:

        1. It was roughly the reason I voted for Romney.

        2. The fact that you actually think Romney was a conservative Republican, who would have anything to do with the John Birch society beyond chuckling while cashing a check.

        The nation will continue it’s “Lesser evil” spiral of death, with each party’s members discounting how evil their nominee is, and exaggerating the evil of the opposition’s candidate, until we reform the system so that the two major parties lose their death grip on the political system.

        1. Well, he looked like a conservative, he talked like a conservative, he surrounded himself with conservatives and he promised to implement the agenda of Fox News and the extreme right, very conservative base of the Republican Party. By me, that’s a conservative.

          But even if Romney is more chameleon than conservative, he never deviated from the party line in the slightest throughout the campaign so a vote for him was always a vote for empowering the crazies.

          1. Actually, Romney did deviate from the Bircher party line in the first debate. Probably the main thing that registered it as a “win” for him, apart from Obama’s making like the Eastwood “empty chair”. Specifically, he came out with a passionate defense of the role of government and the need for regulation to even *have* a market.

            But he also seems to sincerely accept the contemptuous view of the ‘47%’ which he pitched to his Boca Raton donors. Yeah it was pandering-for-dollars, but it’s also completely consistent with his worldview otherwise.

            Now … back to trying to keep Obama from sacrificing the New Deal on the altar of the Village Idiots … er … Gods.

        2. Right. And the only way we can shake the two party death grip is election reform; particularly ‘instant run off’ voting, or some other kind of preference voting system.

          Then, you could vote for the libertarian without hurting the mainstream Republican, or, you could vote for the Greens without hurting the mainstream Democrat. And voting Perot wouldn’t have helped Clinton, while voting Nader wouldn’t have hurt Gore. Lots of non-mainstream candidates would have a chance, too, and elections would be cheaper because we wouldn’t need primaries or run-offs.

    2. Brett, you’re wrong on that specific open mike incident. That incident was Obama talking to Putin, and most of the flak that Obama catches on relations with Russia come from the right. But your general point may be valid.

      1. Keep in mind that, depending on the issue, “conservative” views may extend far from the “right” into the Democratic base. It wasn’t losing Republican votes that caused the Democratic party to downplay gun control, or not pass the Dream act. It was the fact that these were things which could piss off a lot of normally Democratic voters.

        A negative view of Russia extends pretty deep into the Democratic base, you’ve got to go pretty far to the left before sucking up to Putin by betraying our friends in Eastern Europe doesn’t stink to high heaven.

  3. Chait’s “source” just seems to be a Nancy Pelosi interview where she says that she doesn’t think raising the retirement age will be part of the final deal. Bit of a leap.

    1. Yep.

      And an even bigger leap to think Pelosi and Boehner can get the votes to semi-kneecap Medicare and raise taxes one Norquistian inch on the rich.
      Ain’t going to happen even if it happened.

      This isn’t a lead trial balloon. It bloggers looking to float something worthwhile to chew over…
      Which is to suggest: Sometimes a blog post is just an unlit cigar.

      1. I don’t think it’s Pelosi who is pushing for the Medicare cut, nor even the Republicans. Every word I’ve seen advancing this idea has come from a Democrat with good connections to the Obama White House. This is clearly something that Obama himself thinks is a good idea and he’s trying the same trick as during the last debt ceiling negotiations so that he can be “forced” to make some concession that he actually wants to make anyway. If Medicare gets cuts it will be because President Obama wanted to cut it and not because the Republicans forced him to make a painful cut.

        1. What I’m struggling to understand is why any intelligent human being would either a) be convinced that this would be, on any possible level, good policy or good politics, or b) long for the approval of Fred Hiatt.

    2. More of a short hop than a leap. Digby has been on top of the Medicare and Grand Bargain stuff since before the election. Every day she posts something new that somebody from the Obama camp or the Democratic Party or a Villager has said about the “Grand Bargain” and she seems to believe that’s where Obama is headed. I read her regularly and she’s been very much ahead of the curve up until now.

      This grand bargain thing really does seem to be a longrunning obsession of Obama’s and since he’s now unmoored from the Democratic Party now, there’s every reason to worry, as this (probable) trial ballon suggests. Nothing is going to be more helpful at getting Obama the kind of big money ex-presidency that Bill Clinton has than a “grand bargain” that sticks it to the poor, old and sick and rubs the face of the Democratic base in their powerlessness. That’s the kind of thing the Villagers and Wall Street really like and it’s what the Obama camp has been talking about since the election (now that Obama no longer needs the Democrats).

  4. I can’t imagine Obama woud do this. Matt Yglesias has a small twist that makes a very big difference:

    What if Obama raised the age of free basic medicare to 67 but allowed for a buy in from 65-67 with the Obamacare type subsidies for those who can’t afford it? I don’t think that’s so bad of a compromise because it actually helps to lay the ground work for future buy-ins. A 64 year old would say, “hey, why is my crappy private insurance so damn expensive and next year I get way better coverage for way less money? Why can’t I buy into Medicare today!?!?”

    There’s no way Democrats would just allow 65 and 66 year olds to just be kicked out of the system. It’s just such blatantly dumb policy, that I can’t see it. But asking them to pay more for the coverage seems like a real possibility.

    1. Not surprisingly, when Yglesias speaks, he does so from the perspective of a twenty-something professional writer with a degree from Harvard and great connections. It’s easy for him to tell the waiters, construction workers and garbage men who are mostly barely making it financially that they’re stuck paying for crappy private insurance for another two or three years. That might sound like no big deal if you’re young, in good health, with employer-provided health insurance and a cushy desk job. For most of the poor working slobs out there, though, it’s just another kick in the nuts.

    1. Let’s not. By the time Obama’s “grand bargain” unfolds it will be too late. If this is a trial ballon we need to shoot it down right now, while there’s still a chance.

      1. How many times do you plan to be wrong on this bit of shrieking? How many times is the sky going to fall?

        1. Your faith in Obama is touching but is it well grounded in reality? Digby and others have been chronicling a steady drumbeat in favor of raising the age for Medicare eligibility since about the middle of the election. There has been a tremendous amount of renewed interest in raising the eligibility age for both social security and medicare among the people close to Obama, the usual DLC suspects and the Villagers. Ezra Klein has very good connections to the Obama camp and he’s exactly the person they’d use if they wanted to float a trial ballon. Moreover, Obama has form. He’s the first and only Democratic president to put Medicare on the table in negotiations with the Republicans and he did voluntarily , so that he could look like the “adult in the room”.

          That’s why I’m worried. Rather than resorting to ad hominem, why don’t you explain how it is that you aren’t worried?

          1. Give it up, Mitch….

            It will take a video of Obama taking a baseball bat to your grandmother for some to become “worried.”

    1. That’s how Republican Presidents frequently act, I’m not sure why you’d expect Democratic Presidents to be any different on that score. I believe it’s fairly routine for politicians, once they think they’re secure, to jettison parts of their base. The best office holder is the one who still thinks he needs you liking him.

  5. I don’t think this will happen, but if it did, he’d get automatic lame duck status the day after.

    I doubt that Congressional Dems are that fond of him, actually. What would be in this for them?

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