This came up on my Facebook feed recently, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot:
The think tank that my Facebook friend quotes above is called “The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.” If you peruse their webpage, you’ll find reams of policy papers about the necessity of cutting Social Security benefits, but nary a word about the regressive nature of the taxes which fund those benefits, which fall disproportionately on low and middle-income people. Not coincidentally, you’ll also find out that their board is made up almost entirely of former congresspeople who are now working in the banking and finance industry, no doubt pulling in millions of dollars a year. For these people, the most clear and present danger in American society is the possibility that the government may someday decide to actually meet its obligations by raising their taxes to ensure that everyone else has the basic standard of living that our country can clearly afford to provide them.
That stuff is all par for the course, I suppose. But here’s what really gets to me: He claims here that Social Security and Medicare are not “partisan issues.” Millions of people depend on these programs every day for their literal survival, but this person’s advice – and the advice of the think tank who he’s quoting – is that these programs need removed from the realm of politics. People need to put aside their petty needs like “putting food on the table” and “paying for cancer treatment” and trust that people in Washington know what’s best for them. It’s not about politics, they say. It’s about making tough choices and voting against your own interests. It’s about doing what’s best for the country. It’s about trusting your betters.
Social Security and Medicare are the most popular social programs ever instituted in this country’s history, full stop. Cutting benefits to these programs is vastly unpopular, which is why they have managed to survive for so long in their current form. The only people who support these kinds of draconian cuts are those who have no stake in the outcome – those who can rest assured that their Social Security check will only be a small percentage of their post-retirement income. These people make up a very small percentage of the American public and have vastly different interests than everyone else, so of COURSE they will tell you that cutting your benefits is not a partisan issue. Of COURSE they’ll tell you that these reforms are “common sense.” Because if they admit that people’s very lives and well-being are in the realm of politics, they’d have to admit that they are on the wrong side and are destined to lose.
In 2012, as part of my graduate program, I went to Washington DC with a group of classmates to learn about the process of making public policy. We visited the Brookings Institute, we met with Democratic and Republican representatives from Oregon, and went to a couple of different lobbying firms. To a person, they ALL talked about the necessity of cutting these social programs – the consensus was bipartisan and overwhelming. These policy discussions have been meticulously channeled into a limited number of possible actions by think tanks who are funded by the very people who benefit from keeping the parameters of that discussion the same. And that manages to filter down to professional-minded people who are interested in being Very Serious, who furrow their brow and talk about the necessity of being balanced, who think that the extreme right and the extreme left are somehow the same thing, who think that the most important thing you can do in politics is to avoid upsetting anyone. And up until this point these people have had a pretty clear hold on the politics of the Democratic party. You can judge the results for yourselves.
Here’s the deal – if you believe that the role of elected officials is to somehow make decisions that are deeply unpopular amongst the vast majority of Americans, but have been deemed “the right thing to do” by a small number of people who have been secluded in the literally delusional centers of power of DC politics for the majority of their lives – than you’re not a progressive. You’re not even a centrist. You’re a monarchist. It is fundamentally conservative to think that people need to put aside their personal wants and needs when they vote and take the word of the people who are already at the top. It is fundamentally antidemocratic to believe that people don’t know what’s best for them when every poll ever conducted on these programs shows that people don’t want their benefits to be cut and actually support raising taxes on the wealthy. It’s fundamentally elitist to believe that everyone needs to follow the advice of the people who are already in power.
On the other hand, if you believe that the role of government is to improve people’s lives, than it should be obvious to you that there is politics in everything. If you believe that the purpose of politics is to advance the interests of the people who do the voting, than you understand that “common sense” dictates that the government should be working to advance the interests of those very people. You have to be able to see that these interests are diametrically opposed to those of the people who are already at the top.
We are in the midst of a class war, and politics is literally the only weapon we have at our disposal. The primary goal of the 1% has been to convince the rest of us to lay that weapon down. They want us to believe that they have our interests in mind, that the budget deficit is somehow more important than putting food on the table or your ability to access health care when you need it. These people are actively work to dismantle every possible guarantee we have of a basic standard of living, and have been doing so for the duration of my lifetime. And they’ve made obscene amounts of money while all of this has been happening.
They are not to be trusted.
They are not listening to you.
They are not on your side.
You have to start advocating for your own interests. You have to start voting for people who do the same.