- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Last week, Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote a much-commented upon op-ed that criticized Barack Obama for claiming as of late that there’s a “crisis” in Social Security. “Progressives who fought hard and successfully against the Bush Administration’s attempt to panic America into privatizing the New Deal’s crown jewel are outraged, and rightly so,” he wrote.
Krugman put forth a persuasive defense of the viability of the Social Security system and blamed Obama’s “mistake” on his
promises to transcend partisanship in an age when that’s neither possible nor desirable…We all wish that American politics weren’t so bitter and partisan. But if you try to find common ground where none exists–which is the case for many issues today–you end up being played for a fool. And that’s what has just happened to Mr. Obama.
Krugman’s right about Social Security, but I doubt that Obama’s new crisis-mode on Social Security stems from a misguided desire to transcend partisanship. My guess is that Obama knows exactly what he’s doing–namely trying to reassure the Democratic leadership, big political donors, and the elite media that he’s one of them. (Krugman, note here, is among the rare voices in the media who doesn’t echo the “sky is falling” view of Social Security.)
Obama is African-American, runs slightly towards the liberal side, and engenders passion among his supporters. That’s a little scary for beltway insiders, even if Obama did go to Harvard. From his earliest days as a senator, Obama has periodically taken positions that seem designed to prove to that crowd that he’s “safe,” such as his 2005 support for a Republican bill to limit class action lawsuits.
That same year, Obama opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which Congress ended up approving by a narrow margin. But at the time, one of the senator’s staffers whined to a labor official I know that Obama had a very hard time voting against the Agreement because major newspaper editorial pages were strongly in favor of it.
As Krugman noted in his column, conventional wisdom in the beltway today is that Social Security as we know it is doomed. He printed the following exchange between Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, from Hardball:
Mr. Russert: Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.
Mr. Matthews: It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.
Mr. Russert: Yes.
Hence, now that Obama is a serious candidate for the presidency, what better way to prove he’s reliable and mature than to endorse this tripe?
P.S. Check out Obama’s plan for education reform in South Carolina–turning over $18 billion to the boobs who have turned the state’s education system into a joke. Now, that’s inspired leadership. Or is it simply political pandering?
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Number of free condoms handed out by the Brazilian government in advance of Carnival this year:
The best way to measure happiness is simply to ask people how happy they are.
Following three weeks of clashes between protesters and government forces that killed at least 17 people, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced a two-day extension of Carnival. “Happiness will conquer the embittered,” he said during an appearance at a recreation center.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”