“The Republican proposal gives a $200,000 tax break to wealthy Americans, like me, paid for by $6,000 cut from the Social Security of 33 million retirees. This is fundamentally unfair and will not happen while I am president.” It is difficult to overestimate the weight of Barack Obama’s words in the context of the current conservative revival.
The Republican campaign plan, started with a concerted attack on labor unions, hinges on the demolition of the welfare state and what remains of it — all in the name of fiscal rigor, on the backdrop of an economic crisis and the country’s colossal public debt ($14 trillion). In the conservative rhetoric, budget cuts have risen to an absolute moral virtue, a maneuver of singular audacity given the genesis of the crisis: the wild speculation of banks and financiers who have received gigantic government subsidies as their punishment. Faced with the absolute impunity of fraudulent laissez-faire, the right has chosen an ideological conflict on the evils of public spending. The tea party’s minimalist government ideologues on one side and the cooperative wing of the Republicans on the other come together in demonizing big government, the crux of every slogan: the final solution to eliminate the last vestiges of the New Deal.
It makes sense, then, that Barack Obama reaffirms concepts that are incredibly no longer assumed true. He does this citing Lincoln: “Fierce individualists, nonetheless Americans choose to delegate those tasks to the government that the group solves better than individuals.” The president defends the basis of the social pact the Republicans intend to demolish. The realism of his speech in Washington on the economy was a breath of fresh air for the prevailing populist miasma. Obama explained, to an America with millionaires and a general population getting by with increasing difficulty, the sense of a democracy in which the rich contribute proportionately to the Treasury by proposing an increase of one percent on those who hold nearly half of the wealth. That’s blasphemy for the anti-government evangelicals, a heretical idea whose formulation is also crucial to understand a progressive alternative to the right’s demagogues.
Obama continues, proposing $400 million in cuts to the sacred and gargantuan military budget, whose inviolability is high hypocrisy for the Republican healers. Like a social referee, he defends social security, education and health care as necessary investments against feared privatization from free market crusades. He delineates the liberal response to the conservative attack, founded on a social Darwinism unseen since the days of the robber-barons of the early 19th century.
Despite all the disappointments from broken promises, despite the compromises that were too easily accepted from the health reform of Guantanamo, despite even the intervention in Libya and the escalation of the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the truths from an American president in Washington who has laid the foundations for a re-election campaign, predictably bitter, by saying many things from the left. Now it is up to the left to raise the political heat on a president confronted by a strong majority of the opposition in Congress. A first step is the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s (PCCC) petition, which told the president/candidate, “If you allow social cuts you can forget the efforts of the campaign volunteers” — those same people whose efforts took him to the White House two years ago.