Paul Ryan and the Democratic Safety Net Rubicon

Chris Lowe

Mitt Romney’s choice of the austerity ideologue Paul Ryan as his running mate crystallizes a choice the national Democratic Party and the Obama campaign have been facing for a while but not fully engaging: Will they defend core values programs and the actual interests of most Americans, or engage in rank electoral opportunism that trades perceived immediate advantage for selling out the people and continued long term party decline?

For the party: Will the Democratic Party be a party of the people, or the party of Austerity Lite -- the not-quite-as-bad-but-still-against-you-at-the-end-of-the-day-party -- for most people and their interests?

More particularly, on the so-called “fiscal cliff” – which is really a jobs cliff – of cuts required under current law resulting from bad debt ceiling politics last year, will the DP continue to go down the road of backing a so-called “Grand Bargain” for increased austerity to protect excessive military spending and the interests of finance capitalists? Will they enact a lame-duck sellout of the people, to which many party leaders and their media flacks have been pointing? Or will the DP stand and fight for what have been its core values programs, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

For the Obama campaign: Will the president run on a platform of real recovery that rejects cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and handles deficits based on principles that the deficits can only be resolved by revenue that comes from re-expanded employment, additional taxes on the rich, and cutting unsustainable military spending and the imperial practices and outlooks it underwrites? Or will he continue to run on intermittent invocations of the failed Catfood Commmission, and the ideas of its pro-corporate chairs, Erskine Bowles and the egregious Alan Simpson?

An alliance among policy technocrats, political technocrats with too clever by half run-the-campaign-on-slice-and-dice-polling and fight-for-the-middle-of-a-shrunken-electorate political theories, from David Axelrod on down, and the big finance interests in the DP, who have dominated administration responses to the economic crisis, wants the Democrats to be the party of Austerity Lite. The apparent cave-in a few months ago of the last major leadership holdout, Nancy Pelosi, suggests that the Austerity Lite forces are winning.

Because Ryan is such an extremist, the temptation to go this route will be even stronger. Even now there are certainly people in the administration and the campaign arguing for fully embracing the failed Catfood Commission as “the moderate alternative to Ryan’s extremism.”

In other words, large forces are arguing for the smelliest sort of electoral opportunism at the expense of core values programs and the actual interests of most Americans.

And they want those of us who disagree with this course of action to keep quiet. We should not. A limit has been reached.

Those of us who think such a course would be a disaster in terms of substantive policy need to speak out now. Some of us also think selling out on the safety net is the wrong course electorally, that could actually lead to defeat. But to me, even if the election could be won by an Austerity Lite approach, that approach still should be opposed. The election can and should be won without selling us out.

So the issue is not greater or lesser evils in this election. The issue is whether the Democratic Party can be redeemed from a 30 year commitment to failed strategy of tailing the Republicans ever rightward, defining its political task as maintaining a plausible claim to being the lesser evil rather than fighting for the good, to the point where Barack Obama on almost all issues is now to the right of Richard Nixon. F'ing Nixon!

If the DP sells out Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, it will give the final quietus for me to any hopes remaining of such redemption.

This kind of question has a personal side as well as a “big picture” side.

For me, the personal side boils down to this: The higher the risk appears to be of an opportunistic DP sellout of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the more of my energy will go into organizing anti-austerity protests, and the less of it to electing Democrats. Those protests will be directed at any and all persons, regardless of party, who are promoting such austerity.

Conversely, the stronger the DP runs against deepening the failed austerity agenda, such that reversing course would carry a high political cost, the more energy I will put into electing people who reject austerity.

To me, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are the Rubicon, a massive synecdoche for the values for which I work politically. I’m just one guy, and I don’t overblow the importance of my choices to anyone but me. But I also don’t think I’m alone.

If President Obama tries to lead us across this Rubicon, I won’t be going along. I hope he offers me a different choice.

Disclaimer: These views are my own, and do not purport to represent those of my employer nor of any organization with which I am affiliated.

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    Great timing... we're in the middle of an election to beat the dark forces of tea bagger insanity, and you're invoking the circular firing squad. But this is always Naderite temptation, to assert that there's no difference between the Dems and the GOP. The time for this kind of carping is after the election.

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    Bill, I didn't assert there's no difference. There's always a difference. The question for me is, does the difference still include vigorous defense of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security? If it does, then I don't have to divide my focus. If it doesn't, then I do, and that';s not my fault, it;s fault of a bad Democratic strategy that has been failing for 30 years. They are talking about going down the path to joining the "dark forces" as you put it. I refuse to pretend it's not happening or keep quiet about it. Why is Kari having to write about Wyden having to backpedal his opportunistic alliance with Ryan? Because of this kind of game-playing by Dems (I ciriticized Wyden for it at the time on BO). It is exactly after the election that they are talking about making the so-called Grand Bargain. The time to begin fighting that is now.

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      So in other words this is nothing more than concern trolling. Today Joe Biden said in a speech that there will be no changes to Soc. Sec. .. None! Right now we have two choices to lead this country the Dems and President Obama or the GOP and Romney. We don't have Ralph Nader or the Greens or whoever they wish to put forward. This kind of sniping in the middle of an election accomplishes nothing except to sew distrust and help the GOP in their quest to kill Medicare, Medicaid, and Soc. Sec. When Pres. Obama wins this election there is all the time in the world to threaten and cajole the President and the Dem. leadership. But what are you going to do now, vote for the other side??

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    Chris, not all cuts are created equal. IPAB and Medicare Advantage reform will "cut" Medicare as much as eligibility increases or competitive bidding. Are those taboo as well?

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