Interesting and unsurprising poll data from the Associated Press reveals that substantial majorities of Americans oppose Paul Ryan-style Medicare reform or cuts to Social Security. The public also considers the two programs highly important.

Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is "extremely" or "very" important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.

This is the basic dilemma of modern American politics, as you already know. Large majorities support balancing the budget…and oppose raising taxes, meaningfully cutting defense spending, altering Social Security or Medicare, or doing much of anything else that would bring the budget closer to balanced.

There is almost a temptation to feel bad for our elected officials – damned if they do, damned if they don't. The public howls about the deficit but won't accept cuts to anything except programs that we imagine to be large but are actually insignificant (foreign aid, NPR, etc.) and the usual killing of the draft animals (education, social welfare, etc.) Combined, these cuts make hardly a dent in the problem. The temptation to pity them evaporates when one realizes why they inevitably drift toward "solutions" like these. Even among the unpopular solutions, why would they propose something like Medicare cuts – let's be honest, even the GOP knows this is political suicide – before tax increases, defense spending cuts, and so on?

The answer is pretty obvious: because when the chips are down, they will stab you in the back at the drop of the hat. They don't care about you, regardless of party. You are not important. They would rather try to ram Medicare reform down your throat than to bite the Pentagon and Wall Street hands that feed them or raise taxes on their own income bracket. The choice between cutting Social Security and lifting the payroll tax cap (without which Social Security would be solvent in perpetuity) is no choice at all. The default solution is always, always to throw you under the bus.

You can learn a lot about someone when you force them to make choices, eliminating the natural tendency of individuals to take the path of least resistance and please everyone. If I have four cats and I tell you I love them all equally, that doesn't tell you much. If the house is on fire and I can only save one of them, you're about to find out which one I actually love the most. In flush times our elected officials will gladly appease us – doing so is good politics and the path of least resistance. If the money is there to pay for everyone's wants (see: 1950-1970), why not just pay for it all? When reality demands selectivity, we quickly discover what and who really matter.

Our elites are slowly discovering that they need to touch one of the untouchables: raising taxes, cutting the Dept. of Defense, or cutting SS/Medicare. Faced with three politically unappealing choices, it's quite revealing to see which one people like Paul Ryan and Obama's catfood commission decided to bite the bullet and endorse.

25 thoughts on “DEFAULT MODE”

  • Let me posit the following:

    A vast majority of the American public doesn't give a rats ass about the deficit. But the talking heads they drool in front of every evening tells them they should, so they make a go of it.

    The "elites" know damn well that the solution involves the inevitable, as you've described. And surveys consistently show that those of us who comprise the underclass consistently support raising taxes on the rich, however the rich, who own the modes of entertainment the drooling masses consume, send out stooges who yell as loud as they can about how bad of an idea this is. If you doubt this, look at the gap between the surveyed percentage of people who support raising taxes on those who make above 250k and the percentage of opinion in favor of that position you see on your television screen.

    And speaking as someone who benefits from the SS Cap, lift the damn cap already.

  • So, why exactly are so many Americans failing to bother to vote in Congressional elections if Medicare etc are so important? With turnouts regularly well below 40% it seems that political indifference, not policy nor politician is the biggest factor in what comes about.

  • I ask this because we have compulsory voting laws and a preferential voting system here in Australia!

  • anotherbozo says:


    How about a blog on a theoretical reduction in defense spending? (or did I miss one?) You know, theoretical: not that it could really happen. Eliminating foreign bases left over from the cold war, maybe. Bringing the kids home from two wars, of course. Which senators would get hurt the most by reducing suppliers, aerospace production, military installations, etc, in their states?

    Raising taxes on the rich is a lot easier to conceive. As a concept, mind.

  • JustAnotherCommieWannabe says:

    Personally, I make a fair amount and have no trouble at all lifting the cap or raising my taxes. Taxes are the usage fees of society. Society benefits me greatly. It's appropriate I pay a higher usage fee.

    However, having been through this before back in the 80s when SS was doomed and we upped the taxes, then promptly spent it. SS is solvent now, if the USA would pay up on the IOUs. But that would involve raising taxes and cutting spending, etc.

    And none of the solutions involve hitting at a key point: the increase of medical spending. Oh, there's a big flap that 10% of the population is spending 90% of the money (or some similarly lopsided percentage.) That's certainly true but it's because at any given moment in time 10% (or 5% or whatever the percent is of the moment) is in the process of dying. So we should cut out spending on dying people, right? Something ALL of us will face but just not all at once.

    It's time to face a religious idea: the free market doesn't work all the time. If you have an inelastic demand (health care) then the price will continue to rise indefinitely. That's free market economics.

    In medicine at least it's time to abandon the free market.

  • If you're a lurking teabagger and you're not willing to discuss dramatic cuts to the military budget, explain how you're different from the FOX robots you're supposedly rebelling against. In 100 words or less. Not while simultaneously jerking off to Rambo.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Tax increases are the new 3rd rail of politics – but it seems like SS and Medicare still carry some juice.

    To Glen.h.
    Voting here has never been cumpulsory, and never will be. We make it difficult for people to vote. Even registration can still be a pain in the ass in some states.
    Instead of doing what other countries do, and make election day a national holiday, we make the first Tuesday in November, a workday.
    In recent decades, efforts have been made to increase the number of people voting by making registration easier, extending the number of days you can vote, etc. But this tends to increase the number of people who lean towards Democrats to show up, so the the right wing in this country is doing everything possible to make it difficult for a large segment of the population to vote. They legistlate to make suppress voter turn-out. They would be happy if voting was limited exclusively to the following people – land-owning white men over the age of 40. And if pressed, ok, maybe their wives, too.

    Also, too, by continually playing nasty, dirty political games, the right in this country also suppresses the vote this way – people just decide to stay home because voting only seems to encourage the assholes.

  • I'm pretty sure I wrote this editorial during my freshman year at my Jesuit high school in DC in ‘88 where I learned very quickly that the biggest cocksuckers in the class were sons of Reagan administration officials. It amazes me that it's taken 30+ years for many others in this country to realize what should have been painfully obvious since, at least, the Contract for America. The GOP is filled with corrupt egomaniacal sociopaths who care about only one thing: POWER. Not a fan of the Dems either but if I was stuck on a desert island with one, at least I'd be assured that he wouldn't try to literally stab me in the back and eat me. Can't say the same thing about your average GOPer.

  • As long as Social Security was running a surplus there was no problem, Congress willing spent the surplus on other things. Now that SS is close to no longer having a surplus and taxes would need to be raised to pay back the past SS surpluses, it's suddenly a problem.

    If we had Medicare for all, the public would demand they find ways to keep it solvent. It would also drive down the cost of healthcare because Medicare is more efficient than for-profit insurance with the multi-million dollar salaries of CEOs not to mention their fantastic bonuses, because the only way to funnel all that money to the top is to deny service to the insured!!

  • The Moar You Know says:

    Important to note: this is not a partisan issue, but a class issue. Democrats could barely muster enough votes to pass a "health insurance reform" bill that was nothing but a naked transfer of cash to insurance companies. On most other issues they parrot the Koch concern tropes about the deficit forcing us to "make hard choices" – language you never heard from either Democrats or Republicans while the C-Plus Augustus was running up trillions in war debt.

    Of course, that's not to say there aren't difference between the parties. There are. I'm not sure what's stopping Republicans, at this point, from demanding that we drive all the poor into the sea, or into the desert to die of thirst.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Medicare, Social Security, and Defense continue to be the Third, Fourth, and Fifth rails in American politics.

    If you want an example as to why no one is proposing the kind of structural changes that would ensure the long term solvency of the government, take a look at the Ryan plan and the GOPs endorsement of it. They grabbed on to Rail #3 and have been getting zapped for it royally by everybody.

    What makes the argument even more frustrating is that the solutions are there, and have been for twenty years. However, they're unpalatable to our elected officials, because as almost universally wealthy individuals, the changes that need to be made will come on their backs.

    The truth is that neither party cares about "us", and by "us" I mean the vast majority of Americans. Their constituents are the wealthy and the corporations, those with the pockets deep enough to buy influence.

  • @Glen: Probably the true religion of America is (the illusion of) Choice.

    Really, many of these discussions are about the **Freedom** to Choose! To see this really come to the surface, just walk into a room of gun owners and drop the gun control grenade in there. After the "I've got the *Right*!…" arguments it's quickly followed by, "It's *my* choice!" It's all about choice. Which goes into all manner of things, including helping those in bad circumstances. Obviously, they made *bad* choice somewhere along the line, and it should be *my* choice if I want to help them or not.

    So the idea of having voting being compulsory after registration is anathema to Americans because it infringes upon their "Freedom to Choose" to vote or not.
    With many of these discussions that you'll hear over the impacts of the new voter ID bills that are being pushed through the states at the moment, you're going to hear about Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws came about after the Civil War, and were targeted at preventing the blacks from voting.

    The US also has some very funny issues that weren't completely cleared up at the time of the Constitutional Congresses. The US is in reality closer to a confederation rather than a federation. How much power does the Central Government have vs the power of the States? These little things have been bubbling under the surface since then, and erupted in the Civil War (or depending on where you're from the "Wa' of Naw-thun Agres-shun!"). Though many of us thought this was mostly dying out with the George Wallaces of the world. However, a combination of having a President with higher than usual levels of melanin, a collapse of the financial markets brought on by ideological destruction of the watch dogs to prevent such occurrences and real wages for the middle class going backwards due to outsourcing of manufacturing (and just about anything else for that matter) to China and India is getting everyone's knickers in a knot over this.

    To pick-up on c u's post: America is a funny place in which everyone (particularly on the right) spouts "patriotic duty!" about all manner of things. However, when push comes to shove, that's only relevant if the "patriotic" duty is in line with my thinking or will support it. Therefore, yes there's a "patriotic" duty to vote, but only if it supports the gutting of SS. So instead of making the election on say a Saturday as we have here, thereby enabling the maximum number of voters w/o disrupting work, it's on a Tuesday. And if you're in a low paying service job you can't afford to take the time off, and if you're going to be voting to have the state's minimum wage raised it's highly unlikely your boss will give you the time off to go and vote for such a law. I believe that as there's the compulsory aspect, you're boss has to let you have the time to vote if you work on a Saturday.

  • no time to vote – bullsh*t! The polls are open for at least 12 hours if not more in my precinct (for those who care, my precint includes low rent apartments, incase "class" has any baring on turnout.). Even those in service industries only work 8 hour days (I'm sure some work longer or work 2 jobs, but they are in the minority). Hell my own husband works an 8 hour day, commutes for over an hour each way & still has time to vote.

  • @A:
    Sure. But, particularly when the "your vote doesn't count" meme is so overwhelmingly powerful, the American first-Tuesday system DOES work against laborers in favor of the billionaires and retirees that keep the GOP strong. Just because they SHOULD vote doesn't mean it couldn't be easier and more encouraged for them to do so.

  • One thing I want to add: Today, Netanyahu was heckled during his Congressional speech. His response was the usual right wing BS that the heckler's outburst demonstrates that we are a democracy because such an outburst would never be tolerated in the despotic Arab world. Mr. Netanyahu, what is it about the heckler's outburst was tolerated? She was summarily dismissed from the chamber and charged. The misdemeanor charge on her record will now permanently work against her, unless she gets probation before judgment, for the rest of her adult life. What is free about that?

    The day straight talking leaders show up on the national stage, I'll be old and gray or just dead.

  • You know what makes me laugh more than an "I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize" t-shirt? When someone who thinks that 15% of Americans don't deserve access to health care calls ME an elitist.

  • In California, your employer is required to give you two hours' paid time off to vote, and the polls are open for 13 hours on election day. Also, anyone can become a permanent absentee voter by mailing in a form (postage = 44 cents). If you can afford the postage on a two-ounce letter, you can fill out your ballot at home and return it by mail well in advance of the actual election.

  • Voting is not a right; it is a responsibility. People that don't vote need to be fined. Heavily. Not voting is like not paying your taxes.

    Stopping someone from voting is like stopping from paying their taxes. Voter suppression is almost treason.

  • But in some way, it's our fault, too.

    The public wants it both ways. They don't think they should have to pay taxes, and yet they think they can have all the government programs they want. In a way, it's a bit like going into a store, picking out all the items yuou want, and then being offended that you're asked to pay for them.

    It's what I call the "something for nothing" attitude. People seem to forget that running a government and providing all those services they want ACTUALLY COSTS MONEY (although people, oddly, seem to buy into that idea when OKing huge gobs of cash for one of the most wasteful areas of government–the Defense Dept.).

    Yep, Ron Reagan's "taxes are evil" Kool-Aid has had the pernicious effect of making people think that "starving the beast " is a great idea, yet believing that the starving beast ought to give them everything they want…

  • They don't think they should have to pay taxes, and yet they think they can have all the government programs they want.

    Well, this is almost correct. A lot of the public wants government services for themselves, but not for YOU, you lazy welfare queen commie lazy hippie good-for-nothing deadbeat illegal immigrant.

    Mind you, I am not part of the public who doesn't want to pay taxes. I was at some kind of campaign event where a candidate was speaking to me and saying that people don't want to pay taxes, etc., etc. and I said "not me. Tax me up one side and down the other–but GIVE me something for those taxes." He was flummoxed.

  • With all due respect Sluggo, fuck off. You want to hold a gun to my head and make me pick between two nearly identical corporate figureheads?

  • I honestly hope you start making a living at music sometime soon. This bullshit poli-sci gig is clashing too severely with your misanthropy and pessimism. At best, you're a whiskey priest; at worst, you're like one of the innumerable atheist theologians. Your relentless, caustic disgust with the very material you've devoted yourself to studying is incredibly disturbing.

  • I don't praise things very often, but this is one of the most cogent political essays I have read in a long time. Just about everything going on in American politics today makes sense when viewed through this lens.

  • Thanks for the info on voting! Here polling days are always on a Saturday to ensure the electorate makes it. We generally seem to have a much broader selection of canidates with stronger policy differences than in the U.S.

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