The moment of truth has arrived. According to press reports, President Obama has openly embraced cutting Social Security and veterans benefits by imposing the "chained CPI" cut on cost of living increases, which is like signing in blood the idea that the federal government's priorities should be owned by the 1 percent rather than by the 99 percent. The war in Afghanistan will continue, the boondoggle F-35 "Bankrupter" fighter plane will continue, the $83 billion annual taxpayer subsidy to the "too big to fail" banks will continue, but the earned benefits of America's working families, including disabled veterans and their survivors, will be cut if President Obama has his way.
The only thing that can stop President Obama from cutting Social Security now is Congress. Therefore, the only thing that can stop President Obama from cutting Social Security now is public pressure on Congress to stand up to Obama and say no. The pressure that has been exerted so far was not sufficient to stop President Obama from doing this. Therefore, public pressure against Social Security cuts must significantly escalate.
Let's be clear about what's not true. From the point of view of the interests of the 99 percent, there was no legitimate reason for President Obama to do this. The president's marketing strategy will be to say that Obama had to do this because it was necessary to get a deal with Congressional Republicans to raise taxes.
But from the point of view of the interests of the 99 percent, there is no urgency or benefit to getting a deal to raise taxes if Social Security cuts are the price of doing so. Raising taxes, even raising taxes on the 1 percent, isn't an intrinsic good. Raising taxes on the 1 percent is a good thing if it enables the government to do good things and avoid doing bad things. Raising taxes on the 1 percent is a bad thing if it enables the government to do bad things and avoid doing good things.
If there is no "grand bargain," then under the sequester, the Pentagon budget will be cut and Social Security benefits will be protected. If there is a "grand bargain" – a "Grand Betrayal" – Social Security benefits will be cut and the Pentagon budget will be protected. Thus, to be only a little bit crude, the "grand bargain" is about cutting Social Security to protect the Pentagon budget. Raising taxes on the 1 percent as part of a deal to cut Social Security and veterans' benefits and protect the Pentagon budget for wars and useless military junk is a bad deal for the 99 percent.
In general, liberals who follow budget issues know this. We are at a fork in the road: one branch of the fork leads to cutting Social Security to protect the Pentagon budget and the other branch of the fork leads to cutting the Pentagon budget while protecting Social Security.
The fact that cutting Social Security is even on the table, even though cutting Social Security is overwhelmingly unpopular among both Democrats and Republicans, and both Democrats and Republicans would rather cut the Pentagon budget and end the war in Afghanistan instead, is a barometer of 1 percent control of the political system. If not for the domination of the political system by the 1 percent, we wouldn't even be talking about cutting Social Security.
And therefore, if the chained CPI cut goes through, it's going to do more than unjustly cut the earned benefits of seniors and disabled veterans. It's going to be a body blow to the idea that we live in a democracy where the majority rules. If the #ChainedCPI attack on the 99 percent is successful, it's going to be even harder to engage the 99 percent in politics in the future than it is today.
How can we stop this? How can we escalate?
Of course everyone should sign every petition, send every letter, make every phone call, contact every newspaper, attend every demonstration. But so far these efforts have not been enough to turn back the 1 percent's assault. How can we escalate?
What if we all looked each other in the eye and made a pact: every Senator and Representative, Democrat or Republican, who supports cutting Social Security and veterans' benefits by imposing the chained CPI cut is going to face a primary challenge. We'll do everything we can to recruit the richest and famous and most popular people to do it. But if we can't recruit the rich and the famous and the popular to do it, we'll do it ourselves. We'll pledge to do whatever we can to support the challengers: get them on the ballot, turn out the vote. It is a fact that it's extremely difficult to defeat incumbents in primaries, but it is not impossible. Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman. Carol Mosely Braun defeated Alan Dixon. But beyond that, to compel an incumbent to face a primary challenge is to impose a real cost on them, regardless of whether they are defeated. And therefore, a primary challenge answers a key question: how can we impose a cost on incumbents for backing the agenda of the 1 percent, instead of the agenda of the 99 percent?
Primary challenges are definitely not the only answer to the question of how to impose a political cost on incumbents for doing the bidding of the 1%. There are definitely other answers. We could #occupy Congressional offices, for example. But it is certainly one answer, an obvious answer, and if we are going to ignore this obvious answer, we certainly should have a good explanation and justification. Why do Republicans take the Tea Party more seriously than Democrats take progressives? Because Republicans are afraid of the Tea Party — afraid the Tea Party will primary them. Why are progressives less competent in our political engagement than the Tea Party?
I'm a big believer in the principle that you shouldn't ask other people to do things that you're not willing to do yourself. I live in Illinois, and Dick Durbin is up for re-election in 2014. Dick Durbin is a key reason that cutting Social Security and veterans' benefits is on the table. He's number two in the Senate, close to Obama. If Durbin would pledge to oppose any cut to Social Security or veterans' benefits, that would drive a stake in the heart of the idea. But so far Durbin has refused to do so. Clearly, so far, Durbin has not felt enough street heat.
So here's my contribution to the pledge. If Durbin will not pledge to oppose cuts to Social Security and veterans benefits, then I pledge to help try to recruit someone rich and famous and popular to run against him in the 2014 Democratic primary.
You can join the pledge here.