They forget to dance with those that brung them
Consider the current tempest about the “poisonous relations” between Obama and business. Former Clintonista Roger Altman, a Democratic investment banker, offers advice on how to mend the fences to both sides of the simmering divide.
Altman sensibly suggests that Obama has been more business champion than adversary. He notes the “strong results” of profits up 41% and the stock market up 28% since Obama’s election. Obama rescued the banks without reorganizing them, and Altman reports that “most in our community” – the financial community – view Obama’s financial reform as “harmless.” The health insurance and drug companies made out like bandits in health care reform. The energy bill has turned into a long effort to subsidize and placate entrenched corporate interests. Employee Free Choice fell off the agenda, and now the president is starting to push Bush era trade accords. Despite the ravings of the market fundamentalists, Obama regime is characterized far more by its moderation than its populism.
Even so, Altman suggests that Obama also take steps to further placate the business community – - soaring profits are not enough. Some of his suggestions are innocuous: Appoint a few business leaders to the administration. Some risible: Soften what Altman calls the administration’s “inflammatory” rhetoric using words like “reckless,” that tars all business with the same brush. Obama, the populist firebrand? I must have blinked in that nanosecond.
But Altman’s most substantive suggestion – echoing the congealing conventional wisdom of Washington’s elites – is that Obama overcome “skepticism” about his “commitment to reducing the huge and dangerous budget deficits.” How? “Earn deeper credibility with business and with all Americans” by “undertaking the difficult task of trying to fix Social Security.”
Suicidal nonsense. Social Security isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing. It is in surplus, and contributes next to nothing to long term deficit projections that are driven by rising health care costs. It is America’s basic family protection plan, far more important and valued now in the wake of the financial collapse.
A poll released today by POLITICO shows the divide. 65% of the general population views Social Security as “very important,” not surprising since at least that percent will rely on it to remain out of poverty in retirement. Only 41% of the 227 Washington elites polled view Social Security as very important.
Go after Social Security, Mr. President, and you may earn credibility with business leaders who don’t vote for you, but you will reap the whirlwind from working Americans who do not want Washington to mess with Social Security.
Democrats should be clear on this. When House Republican leader John Boehner says Republicans will raise the retirement age to 70, seniors listen. This could have huge consequences – if House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer hadn’t chosen the same time to snack on his large foot, delivering a major address that, among other things, suggested raising the retirement age to 69.
If Democrats don’t protect core middle class programs like Social Security, Medicare, education and the environment, then it isn’t at all clear what they represent. Even Bill Clinton while peddling long forgotten school uniforms and v-chips along the way to re-election, focused his comeback on defending M2E2 (Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment) against Newt Gingrich’s willingness to shut the government down.
Obama and the Democratic Congress have already performed for business leaders who naturally just ask for more. Now it might make sense to pay attention to those that brung them to the dance, or at least avoid kicking them when they are down.