According to most public opinion polls, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is slowly increasing his advantage over Republican challenger Romney, both in the national popular vote as well as in the contests for the swing states which will provide the key to the Electoral College and to final victory on November 6. According to many of these polls, Obama is gaining because he is seen by the American public as more likely to maintain what remains of the US social safety net, as compared to the reactionary Republicans Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, who have both made clear that social programs will be subjected to deep austerity cuts.
Every day, the Obama campaign fills the airwaves with television ads portraying Romney as a heartless plutocrat who has no interest in or comprehension of the daily struggles of working people. The implication is often that Romney cannot be relied on to preserve Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, and other government programs which poor and unemployed people need to survive. In particular, Obamas advertising targets the so-called Ryan Plan for the federal budget, which would remove the federal guarantee (or entitlement) of medical care for senior citizens, and replace it with a voucher good for a sum of money which would usually not be enough to pay for the medical procedures older people require. They would have to pay the difference themselves, and many simply cannot.
By contrast, Obama tries to appear as responsible and caring, with genuine concern about the plight of the little people. Obama, whom his own supporters have often seen as cold and detached himself, has received help in improving his image from former President Bill Clinton, who ran on the slogan of “I feel your pain,” thus highlighting his supposed empathy with the daily problems of the downtrodden.
If these tendencies continue unchanged, it is becoming more likely that Obama will win the election.
But if Obama does win, the American people will be in for a shock of epic proportions. The evidence is now accumulating that Obama fully intends to betray his own loyal supporters – well-meaning everyday people who are even now making contributions, stuffing envelopes, ringing doorbells, and putting up posters to get out the vote on November 6 — by selling out working people to reach a corrupt deal with the same reactionary Republicans Obama is currently pretending to oppose. It would be a deal to savagely cut Social Security, Medicare, and other vital services in the vain quest for a balanced budget and a reduction in the US public debt. Above and beyond the devastating economic effects of such a pact, it would be likely to bring on a collapse of public confidence in government so severe as to represent a true constitutional crisis.
The most recent indication that Obama intends to express his gratitude to his own followers by stabbing them in the back came in a September 24 Huffington Post article by Sam Stein entitled “Obama May Do Social Security Reform during the Lame-Duck Session, Senate Democrats Worry.” Stein quotes a warning issued by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that Obama is signaling to Republicans that he is willing to attack the benefit structure of Social Security pensions by making retirees wait until they are several years older to get full benefits, and by tampering with the mechanism based on changes in the Consumer Price Index which governs cost-of-living increases in the monthly Social Security checks which 56 million older Americans live on. Changing the cost-of-living allowance would have the effect of sharply reducing Social Security benefits over time. According to Sanders, “Everything being equal, unless we stop it, what will happen is there will be a ‘grand bargain’ after the election in which the White House and some Democrats will sit down with Republicans, they will move to a chained CPI.” The “chained CPI” is technical jargon for a dishonest way of calculating inflation which makes price increases seen to be less than they are in reality, and thus chisels away at Social Security payments.
During Obama’s negotiations with the reactionary Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in the summer of 2011, the tenant of the White House responded to Republican blackmail and extortion centering on a US default on public debt payments by appeasing the GOP with the offer of instituting such a “chained CPI.” But this deal fell apart because of the truculence of the Tea Party Republican faction, also known as “the reactionary beast.”
Obama’s entire method of governing depends on duplicity, deception, and dissembling. At the same time, he is not entirely secretive about his preference for brutal cuts, and does signal from time to time more or less what he intends to do. But many Americans, stupefied by spectator sports and “reality” television, are too estranged from reality to understand what is happening.
During the week before his inauguration in January 2009, Obama met with the editorial board of the Washington Post and clearly announced his intention to “fix” Social Security and Medicare, using savage cuts in both cases — an issue which he had never raised in his campaign. In Obama’s acceptance speech to the Democratic national convention in early September, he stressed that he was “eager” to reach a “grand bargain” with the Republicans, most likely during the so-called lame duck session of Congress in December, when many lawmakers will either be defeated or on their way to retirement, making it easier for them to support drastic austerity measures for which voters would seek to punish them if they got the chance.
On MSNBC Television this past Monday morning, Obama’s campaign boss David Axelrod (widely reputed to be the great-great-grandson of Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky) did everything possible to hide Obama’s real intentions in regard to austerity against social programs. Axelrod offered no details, but kept repeating that “the approach has to be a balanced one.” This is ironic, since Obama and Axelrod are constantly attacking Romney because he refuses to specify how he intends to change the tax code. But Obama is being just as secretive about plans to shred the social safety net – a matter of life or death for those who depend on it. For Democrats, “balanced” in this context usually means life-threatening reductions in social services which are bartered for tiny modifications in the privileges of super-rich parasites.
When asked for the details of Obama’s intentions by Mark Halperin of Time magazine, Axelrod refused to respond, saying instead: “Mark, I’ll tell you what: when you get elected to the United States Senate and sit at the table – this is not the time.”
While many gullible Americans seemed to be reassured by the role of Bill Clinton in campaigning for Obama, Clinton’s very presence should be seen instead as a harbinger of coming betrayal. In 1996, Clinton capitulated to reactionary demands to wipe out Aid to Families with Dependent Children, an entitlement built into Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Social Security Act of 1935. Clinton thus ended “welfare as we know it” in order to get reelected, and in doing so set the US on a direct path to the current catastrophe of over 50 million people living in extreme poverty with nothing but food stamps to keep them alive. Clinton balanced the US federal budget for a couple of years, but he did it on the backs the poorest and most defenseless.
And, according to Steven Gillon in his recent book The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation, Clinton, Hillary, and their friend, the right wing Morgan Stanley executive Erskine Bowles wanted to seal a dirty deal with reactionary House Speaker Newt Gingrich to “fix” Social Security via draconian cuts in Clinton’s second term. In late October 1997, Clinton and Gingrich agreed to gut the pension system in ways strikingly similar to what Obama is preparing today. They wanted to raise the minimum age for benefits and erode the monthly checks by tampering with the cost-of-living formula. Clinton was even willing to accept the Republican demand for private accounts for investment and speculation, with huge sums going into the pockets of Wall Street brokers. But this deal blew up when Gingrich, urged on by Republican extremists, impeached Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal in December 1998.
The danger for after the November election is thus a pact between Wall Street Democrats and reactionary Republicans to shift more of the costs of the current economic depression onto working people. With the forces of killer austerity dominating both major political parties, it is more urgent than ever to create an independent programmatic and organizational alternative to serve as a rallying point for class defense in the coming months. If the American people realize in November that they have been duped for a second time by the master manipulator Obama, many will start looking for a way to organize resistance against additional cuts, while fighting for an economic recovery. The critical time for creating a nationwide united front against austerity is now.