If our dysfunctional politicians can collaborate to do the bidding of the 1 percent, why can't members of the 99 percent find ways to work with those we disagree with to protect all of our interests?
Specifically, can progressive Democrats who oppose President Obama's proposed cuts to Social Security work with members of the Tea Party who also oppose the cuts -- along with everything else the president does?
The gulf between these two groups is obviously deep and wide.
Rank-and-file Democrats tend to want to put government to work in their interests, and believe that it can. Meanwhile, the Tea Party sees the government as the perpetual problem, and the only good thing it could do is... disappear altogether.
But on the single issue of Social Security, the two groups appear to enjoy a rare agreement -- along with most of the rest of the country.
According to this 2011 Marist poll , voters who identified with the Tea Party oppose cuts to Social Security nearly as strongly as voters from across the political spectrum: nearly 8 in 10 Tea Partiers are against the cuts. Of all voters, slightly more than 8 in 10 dislike such cuts.
As for the president, he would rather not be seen as cutting Social Security benefits at all. What he's suggesting is a change to the way cost of living adjustments are calculated, called chained CPI, in exchange for more tax hikes. Supporters say chained CPI is more accurate because it reflects how people actually react to price increases.
According to this theory, if the price of hamburger goes up, people will switch to beans. So why should the government give you more money to buy hamburger, if you're just going to go out and eat beans? Under chained CPI, Social Security benefits would be limited to increases in the cost of beans. As economist Michael Hudson says of chained CPI, "It's not really a cost of living index. It's a cost of lower living standards index."
Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith has labeled it, "the cat food index."
For many rank-and-file Democrats, it's a bitter betrayal of President Obama's 2012 campaign pledge to strengthen the middle class. It's also a reversal of one of Obama's unequivocal campaign promises as a candidate back in 2008. Drawing a contrast to his opponent, John McCain, Obama said McCain favored raising the retirement age and reducing Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. "Let me be clear," candidate Obama said. "I will not do either."
Stopping the president's scheme will take more than just the efforts of his disgruntled base. President Obama seems to welcome their opposition, wearing it as a badge of honor. He would like people to think he's making a principled, political sacrifice for the greater good of the country against the wishes of his own base.
Getting the 99 percenters in the Democratic base to work with their opposite numbers in the Tea Party might not be as outlandish as it first appears.
One of the founders of the Tea Party has already been reaching out to Democratic Party activists to discuss specific issues. Earlier this year, Mark Meckler met with MoveOn.org's Joan Blades about crony capitalism and with activist Jose Antonio Vargas about immigration. These talks haven't yielded action -- yet. Here's Meckler talking about it.
The Tea Party has its own links to the 1 percent that undermine its credibility as a grassroots activist movement -- and its ability to fight for the interests of ordinary Americans.
The Tea Party has been closely linked to the Club for Growth and Freedomworks, big-money conservative Republican operations that in the past have pushed for privatization of Social Security, most recently pushed by President George W. Bush. Privatization would be a financial bonanza for Wall Street... and would have been a catastrophe for the rest of us if George Bush's 2005 plan had gone into effect. Most Americans would have lost all their benefits in the great crash of 2008.
Earlier this month, when one conservative Oregon Republican member of Congress criticized the president's Social Security scheme as "a shocking attack on seniors," the Club for Growth threatened to find an even more conservative Republican to run against him. The Club for Growth apparently thinks chained CPI is a good down payment on further, deeper Social Security cuts down the road.
Members of the Tea Party will have to decide whether they want to work for the interests of the elites in Club for Growth and Freedomworks or join with other ordinary citizens to fight for their own interests. (Meckler quit his leadership role with the Tea Party, saying it was becoming too top down.)
The Democratic base will face its own challenges. Is it prepared to fight the president and Democratic leadership that not so long ago it worked so hard to elect, and has defended so vociferously, despite growing income inequality and continuing high unemployment?
If the two groups found a way to move beyond their disagreements, that would really be something fresh in American politics, showing leadership to replace stale rhetoric with robust action in support of the majority of Americans. Not only could that coalition mobilize a successful campaign against Social Security cuts, it could throw a genuine scare into a complacent political class and the 1 percent it serves.
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