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Roger Hickey

Roger Hickey

Posted: December 16, 2010 09:39 PM

Republican hostage-takers got President Obama to go along with their tax cuts for the wealthy by threatening to raise taxes on the middle class and blocking even modest stimulus funds for our struggling economy.

Now the Republicans have identified their next hostage: They're going to threaten to destroy the international financial stability of the United States by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. What are they demanding for ransom? They want President Obama to slash Social Security and Medicare before this next hostage crisis comes to a head in March or April.

Who can stop this next hostage crisis? We can. We is everyone who cares about our country. We have to start by sending a message to the president here: No more surrendering to hostage takers' demands. Pledge to defend Social Security and Medicare. Click here to take action.

Here are two scenarios. Which one will you work to make happen?

Scenario One: In his State of the Union speech (around January 27), Obama declares that he is willing to "meet the Republicans half way". In fact, he will preempt the hostage-taking crisis altogether, by accepting some of the harshest recommendations of his deficit commission. He announces his support for legislation to cut Social Security benefits for today's retirees, by changing the cost of living index. He pledges to cut Social Security benefits for future middle-class retirees even more and declares his intention to raise the retirement age. What's more, he says he will cap Medicare benefits for each retiree, and they will either have to pay for the rest of their medical care out of pocket or do without the care they need.

This is looking like an increasing likely scenario. What would happen then? Let's play it out a little further:

In response to the president's statements, several senior Democrats announce their plans to quit public service, Republicans, flush with their latest victory, start issuing their newest set of demands. If these new demands aren't met, they say, they'll refuse to pass the debt ceiling -- which would crash the US economy. Soon the Democrats and Obama are attacked by Newt Gingrich and other Republican presidential candidates as the party and the president who cut Social Security. Republican prospects for 2012 improve greatly as the public recoils at this attack on a popular program, Democratic activists erupt in fury, and the true Democratic base of working families and independents becomes even more disillusioned.

Scenario Two: The White House and the Democrats in Congress are flooded with emails, faxes and phone calls that say: "We elected you to protect Social Security and Medicare." "Stand up and Fight against hostage takers." Over 200 members of Congress join together to declare: "Social Security and Medicare are our 'line in the sand." In his State of the Union, the president reminds the country that Social Security doesn't contribute a single dime to the deficit, and says unequivocally that he will defend it against any attempt to cut benefits or raid its trust fund to pay down the federal deficit. He might even announce a new commission charged with strengthening and improving Social Security, composed of well-informed people who care about the program. He vows additional reforms to cut health care costs and improve the quality of care, and pledges not to harm or cut Medicare. And, channeling Bill Clinton from 1994, he declares he will refuse to give in to extortionists who would harm the US economic system in an attempt to force him to dismantle America's social contract. In response, nervous Wall Street financiers denounce the extremist politicians who would crash the world financial system in order to win their political goals. Chastened, the Republicans back down and agree to support extension of the debt limit.

Working Americans rally to the president, filled with newfound respect for his willingness to stand up and fight for them. 2012 starts looking much better for Obama -- and for Democrats in the Congress.

Which scenario will become reality? That's up to you. Progressive activists -- the kind of people who are reading these words -- need to become even more active if we want to make scenario two our future.

Many people are disappointed and disillusioned by the outcome of the first hostage confrontation with Republicans in the new post-majority era -- a confrontation that ended before it began. As a result, too many are succumbing to cynicism, assuming that all is hopeless and that the first scenario is inevitable. We all know that if scenario one happens, it will trigger a firestorm of protest and we will be part of that firestorm. Why not channel that energy into changing history instead, by using it to get President Obama on the road toward revival and real economic change?

If we get off our asses before a tragic mistake is made, we'll discover the American people are with us in this next fight. Poll after poll shows that, despite the coordinated conservative deficit scare campaign, strong majorities reject cuts to Social Security benefits or messing with Medicare. And people hate the idea of raising the retirement age -- that includes already-retired people and baby-boomers, and younger workers who would have to work two more years -- no matter how bad the economy is or how badly their bodies have been battered. Americans are strongly supportive of our modest but fair social insurance system -- and, especially in these bad economic times, they'll fight any politician who tries to damage it. Let's fight a fight that unites all Americans -- even the majority of Tea Partiers.

In the few weeks before the president's late January State of the Union speech, we need to clearly and forcefully tell him and the Democratic party what we think: Capitulating to hostage takers on Social Security and Medicare would be a disaster and politically and the wrong thing to do morally.

You can take your first action right here.

And then, if we succeed at getting the president to hold off, we can mount a massive campaign that would bring unions, citizens' organizations, grass roots groups of all kinds together. It would speak directly to the voters -- blue collar and white collar, independents and partisans, middle class and working class -- attacking those Republicans who would threaten to crash the US economy in order to cut popular programs. We can flood conservatives in Congress with angry protests and end this next hostage crisis with the first defeat of the new right wing Congress -- and the first victory of America's progressive majority.

We can suffer through the first scenario, or make a better reality. It's up to you.

 

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