Sociopathic centrists beg Obama for "entitlement cuts" as Americans starve

In the midst of mass poverty, powerful people still demand social insurance cuts. Obama may have stopped listening

Published July 30, 2013 1:30PM (EDT)

           (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The president is in the midst of an extended series of speeches, which he is delivering in different places across the country, dedicated to arguing for and proposing policies to ensure long-term economic security and prosperity for the middle class. It is perhaps a futile effort, considering the wide gulf that exists between Democrats and Republicans on most economic matters, but the president is at least devoting himself, rhetorically, to an important problem: Economic mobility in the United States is a myth, and income inequality isn't.

There are a lot of things that could be done to alleviate both of those trends. Unfortunately many of those things are opposed not just by conservatives, but also by supposed "centrists" and even some who consider themselves liberal. Here's how bad it is: The Washington Post editorial board, the official "institutional" voice of the most prominent and influential newspaper in our nation's capital, would like the president to use these speeches to argue for cuts to popular social welfare programs that middle class Americans rely on and overwhelmingly support.

After first noting the president's "welcome references to science and research, crucial infrastructure and making college more affordable," the editorial board quickly moves on to topics that it cares about much more than "science" and "infrastructure."

But Mr. Obama’s speeches so far are notable mainly for what they haven’t included: a serious proposal for straightening out the federal government’s long-term fiscal situation.

OK. Well, that's sort of not what these speeches are about? But what did you have in mind:

By the tendentious standards of politics, it was okay for the president to challenge Republicans to come up with better ideas than his, while simultaneously portraying most of them as mindlessly bent on a government shutdown. What’s rather less forgivable, however, is that, even though the president of the United States is well into a highly promoted series of major addresses on the future of the U.S. economy, searching the text of his speeches for “entitlement reform” or “entitlement” yields nothing but “phrase not found.”

Yes, what a strange and disappointing omission! For some reason, the president has not yet used the loaded term "entitlements," while proposing that Medicare and Social Security be "reformed," which is to say made less generous. It's just very odd that in his speeches about making the middle class more prosperous, the president has not once suggested trying maybe slashing two of the most successful middle class welfare programs in the country's history. Say this for the Washington Post editorial board: Search the text of any given week of editorials for the word "entitlements," and you will definitely always find it.

The Post does not quite try to imply that cutting these programs would help the middle class. They are really just disappointed that Obama isn't out there giving speeches telling the middle class to suck it up, because the deficit is more important than their livelihoods. The Post uses the terms "leveling with the public" and "candor" to describe the act of telling regular people that the policy preferences of Washington's wealthy elite must take precedence over the economic security of the majority of Americans.

All of this -- from lumping together Social Security and Medicare despite those programs' incredibly different long-term cost projections, simply because the centrist elite want both of them cut, to the way "entitlement reform" is treated as a sort of self-evident good, because centrist deficit hysteria is a religious belief and hence not in need of justification -- is not just bullshit, it's very old and tired bullshit. It's comically ancient bullshit. No one who's been paying attention over these last few years, as the feeble "recovery" led to soaring corporate profits, the return of the finance industry to total economic dominance, a plummeting deficit and a still ongoing jobs crisis, should be able to write this editorial with a straight face. Maybe Fred Hiatt and co. were giggling. I think probably not. This is how dumb and single-minded the elite Beltway media centrist is. This is why the Washington Post's "straight" political reporters feel comfortable inserting these exact arguments into their analyses of Obama's economy speeches. They don't even recognize it as ideology. Top-down class warfare is just in their bones.

But it is really not cute anymore to crow about the wholly imaginary problem of "the deficit" when people are starving. At this point it's verging on sociopathic. 46 million Americans are officially poor and 80 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near-poverty at some point in their lives. Meanwhile, food stamps are about to be cut, because of deficit hysteria, and the Post is still begging for social insurance and healthcare for old people to face the chopping block, too.

But look: The fact that the Washington Post editorial board is resorting to begging is perhaps a good sign. It may well be that Republican absolutism saved us from a grand bargain in 2011, and again this year, and now the widespread hunger for it is finally fading.

It may also be the case that the president has gotten over his own mania for the idea. His speech today is going to call for a "grand bargain," but one that will not please the sort of people on the Washington Post editorial board:

President Barack Obama will propose a "grand bargain for middle-class jobs" on Tuesday that would cut the U.S. corporate tax rate and use billions in revenues generated by a business tax overhaul to fund projects aimed at creating jobs.

In the usual "grand bargain," liberals are supposed to cave on a major priority -- spending on social insurance -- in exchange for a conservative "centrist" priority -- modest "tax reform" that, in the usual formulation, lowers rates. Obama will propose what is supposed to be a major conservative priority -- cutting the corporate tax rate -- in exchange for things that will actually help people:

The new twist is that in exchange for his support for a corporate tax reduction, he wants money generated by the tax overhaul to be used on a mix of proposals such as funding infrastructure projects like repairing roads and bridges, improving education at community colleges, and promoting manufacturing, senior administration officials said.

The fact that this is a new twist is depressing, considering how obvious it is. It is also likely doomed as an actual proposal, but it is at least clever to hijack the "grand bargain" concept and attempt to use it for good.

Let's hope some of the cold-blooded centrists become confused enough to support this grand bargain. I suggest that the president help sell it by finding guys named "Simpson" and "Bowles" to endorse it.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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