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March 04, 2005

Complacency Kills

As successfully as the Democrats seem to be repelling Bush's assault on Social Security, we still show no conception of how to turn our defensive entrenchment into a powerful counterattack. We cheer when one of our number tags privatization as an attack on Social Security's legitimacy, but what about on the legitimacy of government?

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace...business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me‹and I welcome their hatred.
...
But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

Head here and you can listen to FDR deliver that speech. It sends chills down my spine. What have we done, that we've gone from crushing Goldwater to allowing Clinton to close out the era of big government? I'm reading about the 1993 health care battle and I'm just stunned at how we let the special interests walk all over us, barely noticing until their foot finally found our throat and stomped down. In FDR's hands, their opposition was a positive; let them mass, it was his job to repulse their assault! In FDR's eyes, those who hated America's government hated America, unlike today, when believing in our country's government is somehow inimical to the ethos of this country. Which one is more logical? How the hell did we lose that rhetorical battle?

In his excellent book The 2% Solution, Matt Miller quotes Bill Bradley on health care saying, and I paraphrase, "Democrats are still scarred from 1994. They can't think big anymore -- they're afraid to go back into the dark room where the bad thing happened." But Christ on a bumper sticker, I'm tired of our post-traumatic stress syndrome. This isn't even hard! Which seems more sensical in the ideological makeup of a patriot: believing our government an incompetent coagulation of bureaucracies or a force for good? And which seems more likely to strengthen the party: painting Republicans as bad on Social Security or painting them as a bunch of ideologues determined to destroy the programs that help average men and women?

Now that Republicans are reeling from running into the brick wall of the foundational Democratic program, wouldn't it make sense to toss their ideology an anvil? Half our number seems to think we need to close the Social Security battle now while the other half wants to draw it out and win it closer to midterms. What about widening our attack so the counteroffensive takes some time and does larger damage? How about using the "crisis" language and the fact that Bush's Medicare pperversion is a much larger economic fiasco to propose fight for changes that'd make it more cost-effective, more progressive, and force Bush's promised veto? How about forcing Bush to roll back his tax cuts to fix Social Security's shortfall, and demand that he not starve government to satisfy his radical ideology?

In 1993, we made the critical mistake of letting health care languish on the backburner. The screw-up proved fatal, as the time we spent publicly crafting it without promoting it gave the Republicans the breathing room to form their coalition for the killing. Initially, everybody loved Clinton's ideas, public approval beat disapproval by 32%(!); months later, we didn't have enough shovels to bury all our fallen congressmen. If we sit here, pleased as punch to neutralize their offensive but lacking the killer instinct to land the follow-up blows, they're going to rally their troops, commission their ads, buy their spots, and push back. And we're going to fall down. Because for them, this isn't a legislative scuffle but a philosophical war. FDR would have agreed. Why don't we?

March 4, 2005 in Democrats, Social Security | Permalink

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» Counting down the days from Doubly Sure
The American people may not stand for the dismantling of Social Security but I think they will stand for the strengthening of Social Security. How do Democrats turn this into an issue from which they can derive support? Just because people oppose the... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 5, 2005 3:36:54 PM

» My Message Gets Out, In Spite of Myself from Southpaw
Via Digby, find this great piece by Ezra Klein that gets straight to what I've been flailing away trying to articulate since starting this blog. Naturally, he invokes FDR: For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-no... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 5, 2005 9:03:00 PM

» Unreasonable Sheep from Fallenmonk
This is not just simply a discussion or fight about social security or health care or who wins the most seats in the next election. This is about the future of the world. [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 6:29:50 AM

Comments

I assume that you are reading The System by David Broder and Haynes Johnson. This is not only the best book on the battle for health care reform, it's one of the best studies of contemporary American politics and sets the stage for the Bush attack on Social Security very nicely. Given how often Broder, especially, is attacked in left blogs, this is ironic. Everyone should read The System. Twice.

Posted by: hb | Mar 4, 2005 4:40:08 PM

I agree completely. We should not be trying to save Social Security, we should be using social security to save liberalism. SS works. Liberalism works. The government is not the enemey, the government is us. And it does some things very well--like fight wars and provide a guarenteed retirement for old folks. Government is merely the organizational system that allows us to pool our resources and we are stronger when we work together. It is smart economics.

Posted by: TJon | Mar 4, 2005 4:58:26 PM

IIRC, Matt Miller also advocates indexing SS to prices. I was down with that for a while until I realized what it really meant in terms of benefit cuts, cat food, and whatnot.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 4, 2005 5:07:58 PM

I dunno, Jesse. I look at those poll numbers and it seems like we lost again, its just that the bullshit was so transparent that not enough people bought into it. Once again, half the country believes the WH line- SS will go bankrupt. That signals to me that we did not win this fight, it was won for us.

Posted by: Sandals | Mar 4, 2005 5:49:46 PM

Jesse? I mean, that was understandable at Pandagon, but you gotta get your sites straight, Sandals.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 4, 2005 6:07:26 PM

Uh, no Jesse here, I thought.

A) Excellent all around. Great catch in the FDR speech. Great rhetoric of your own.

B) The SS fight is not over. Not over for this year, they will try to sneak something out of the Senate and rewrite in conference. Bush/Rove do not go down this easily, heck they think they are winning, and I trust their judgement. They haven't lost much.

In any case, they will gradually try to change the meme, and be back the next year, or the year after that. This fight started as far back as 1934, and will never be over.

C) I sense a change, or the beginning of one. "Greenspan is and always has been a partisan hack." is a good start. Democrats are just beginning to fight.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 4, 2005 6:16:35 PM

Ezra, I'm not so sure they put it on the backburner. They tried to prioritize the bills. First, you had to address the economy, so you had the budget. Then, NAFTA was (I think) required a yea-nay at a certain point. Then, health care.

IHMO, the alternative would have been to put NAFTA, the budget bill AND health care up at the same time, which would have caused all three to be linked by Congresspeople looking for sweeteners for their specific interest group and/or constituency.

The real mistake the Admin. made was pushing the stimulus bill at the same time they were talking about fiscal discipline. By the time that languished, they lost all their momentum and Time was running stories on the "Incredible Shrinking Presidency".

They recovered by passing NAFTA and the budget bill, but by that time the momentum was gone and they were facing the midterms.

Oh, and they did a shitty job of marketing it when they finally did get to it. Can someone bring that up when Hillary runs in 08'? Please?

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Mar 4, 2005 6:17:50 PM

FUCK. Sorry.

I dunno how I did that.

Posted by: Sandals | Mar 4, 2005 8:39:34 PM

I used to have a 12" LP record of FDR speeches (lost somewhere along the way) which always brought chills to my body when I heard them.

It's been said many times recently that the Dems must stand up to the very effective conservative foghorn, but we still are not doing it. Reid and Krugman show us how to hit back tactically. Tactics and battles won't lead us back to electoral majorities and a government that works for the people.

Your summary is just perfect:

"Because for them, this isn't a legislative scuffle but a philosophical war. FDR would have agreed. Why don't we?"

Too many Dems don't yet see this as a war of ideas and ideals. And the ONLY prominent Democrat that does, Howard Dean, is still viewed with suspicion by a likely majority of Democrats.

Political philosophies need content. Politcal movements need a philosophy plus leaders and believers to make them happen.

The Dems are still wandering in the wilderness in loosely connected groups, and it is not clear to me how to bring us together in an effective electoral army. Where is our FDR?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 4, 2005 11:24:24 PM

Yes, yes, yes.

Philosophy is indeed the key. The problem is that modern democrats (at least those "sanitized" enough to win the big $$ race for promotion within the party, etc.) are oceans away from philosophy.

The first ten minutes of Bullworth should be made into a feature length film that does not have a happy ending. That environment is where most of the prominent/successful congressional Democrats live. (You listening, Pelosi?)

The Repugs know WHY they argue, and are the only ones on the field. The Dems are terrified of Dean (and ourselves) because they have had bad dreams of their ethicless floors falling out from under them for years, and ours is a very unpleasant creaking and groaning.

Posted by: chimneyswift | Mar 4, 2005 11:43:57 PM

I had the prvilege of hearing it the first time and, yes, I got chills then, too. I like your take of the situation. Keep writing. Someone is eventually bound to hear and understand.

Posted by: Nora L. Ingram | Mar 5, 2005 1:04:15 PM

Excellent work, Ezra.

You are exactly correct to worry about the Democrats' seeming inability to go for the jugular (a trick the Republicans have mastered). This certainly doesn't have to mean resorting to the cheap and sleazy tactics so often employed by the right wing, but kicking them while they're down and then moving in for ideological disembowelment? Absolutely.

Posted by: Ranty | Mar 5, 2005 8:43:27 PM

That's my favorite speech by FDR. But you left out my favorite line! "I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match; I would like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master."

Posted by: tired liberal | Mar 6, 2005 9:12:35 AM

It is axiomatic-- You frame an issue by picking a fight.

I submit that progressives and Democrats must pick a fight right now, must present an initiative to balance the budget. Picking a fight about the budget deficit frames the Bush budget for what it is, irresponsible deficit spending. That is something people in blue and red states can understand. And if people want to be responsible about Social Security, fiscal integrity is at the top of the list.

I’m tired of waiting for someone else to do something about this. Between March 14 and March 18 regular working people in New York and Florida are going to run progressive issue ads on conservative talk radio. We’re trying to call attention to the staggering deficits being written by the Bush administration, deficits that our children will have to re-pay.

here’s the link for more information–http://www.buzzflash.com/contributors/05/02/con05063.html

Robert Millman
Glenville, NY

Posted by: Robert Millman | Mar 7, 2005 7:20:28 AM

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Posted by: JEROGatch | Nov 8, 2006 1:58:16 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:44:54 AM

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