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Biden's Social Security Slap Resonates
Hit Where It Hurts
Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare.
They’ve said so for years and years. Eighteen years ago, fresh off his reelection victory against John Kerry, George W. Bush had a head full of steam and decided to go for it, and campaigned for a scheme that would have privatized the Social Security system enriching the Wall Street types who donated to his campaign. Democrats rallied in defense, beat Bush, and a year later won the House that Republicans had held.
And still Republicans want to attack these twin pillars of the social safety net. Paul Ryan lusted after killing the programs for his Ayn Rand-fueled dreams, and Rick Scott continues to defend his genius idea of “sunsetting” Social Security and Medicare.
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All President Joe Biden did during his 2023 State of the Union address was remind the American people about this very real scenario, and not only did Republicans in attendance immediately start crying and whining (led by de facto Speaker Marjorie Taylor Greene), but they’ve continued to whine for days. Kevin McCarthy complained that Biden had baited the GOP, and Fox News and NY Post, part of the Rupert Murdoch smear machine, have been pumping out stories about how unfair Biden’s factual statement was.
Too often in the past, Democrats have declined to hit the Republican Party where it hurts. Offered up a slam dunk issue, Democrats overthink it, assuming that the right’s position must be backed up by something or else they wouldn’t go out on a limb. The right couldn’t be so stupid that they would go after Social Security, right? One of the few things left in America that practically everyone agrees on. There must be more, goes this Democratic line of thinking, better to offer up some meager half measure and meet the right in the middle in an attempt to fiddle with the demographic knobs and get a slight advantage.
But when it comes to the assault on the safety net, there is no grand strategy. This is not George W. Bush and his team stealthily making up lies about weapons of mass destruction. This is a wrecking ball with none of the subtlety. And that’s how it has to be responded to.
I was a little concerned that after Biden roped the Republican dopes in his speech into “promising” to leave the programs alone, that he might relent in this line of attack. But so far so good. Biden has followed up his completely factual defense of Social Security with more speeches pointing out, again, completely accurately, that Republicans want to hurt these programs and that keeping them out of power is the best remedy to defending the pensions and health care of millions of Americans.
It’s politics 101, to hit the opposition where they are weakest or perceived to be weak. Back in the early 2000s, Republicans exploited the notion that Democrats were “weak” on national security and defense extraordinarily well, using the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq as a bludgeon. The Democratic response for a long time was a mess, attempting to avoid being called hippies but also trying to appease the anti-war sentiment of their base. Republicans won that fight until the elections of 2006 and 2008, when Democrats — at a loss for direction — finally came around in unison against the dumb war of choice.
The perception of being against the safety net is a bigger drag on the Republican Party than being an anti-war Democrat ever was. There’s a reason these programs are the “third rail,” because you’re going to get roasted alive by the public if you try to hurt them. Why not use such a gift-wrapped political gift?
Defending the safety net falls in line with other Biden priorities, as he has authorized policies and signed off on legislation focused on using the power of the government to help people and business in America. The libertarian conservative fantasy of limited government is not something supported by any constituency of serious size in America, and it has been decades since Democrats should have acknowledged that. The rhetoric of the Republican Party was always out of touch on this, but too often Democrats were not loud enough in pointing that out, instead pursuing ridiculous “grand bargains” that were self-sabotage.
Biden’s slap resonated and continues to resonate. One of the best indicators of a potent political attack is how often the target moans and whines about it, and the right is in the midst of an extended moan and whine session now. It worked. Biden and Democrats should keep doing it, and never stop.
We still hear from the right about the purported fumbles of President Jimmy Carter, who never did anything as dumb as trying to privatize Social Security ahead of the Great Recession like George W. Bush did. So let’s hear about the GOP plot to undermine Social Security and Medicare for at least the next five decades. Even longer. Keep slapping.
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