Obama Bashing Increases As He Threatens To Win

The Obama-hype of last winter is being replaced this week by Obama-bashing as supporters of other candidates see the race tightening and face the prospect that Obama is now in a strong position to win the nomination. Taylor Marsh provides one example of the common attacks at Huffington Post. Much of her attack can be summarized by saying that Obama is not following the lead of the liberal netroots on all matters. As I noted in a post on a different matter yesterday there are increasingly sets of positions held by the bulk of both the left and right blogospheres. These rigid sets of positions, however, are not shared by many voters and Obama’s heresy is seen as a strength by many of his supporters. This especially includes independents and the new Democratic voters who gave the party their victory in 2006.

Marsh also takes selected quotes from Obama to demonstrate that, when he’s at his worst, Obama can sound as triangulating as Clinton. Tell me something I didn’t know. I’ve often been frustrated that Obama can be overly vague, as is the case with all politicians. It is not always possible to be certain if Obama is truly different from other politicians or if he is skilled in giving that impression. The difference is that, while in his worst statements he sounds no better than politicians like Hillary Clinton, at his best he greatly surpasses her, as he did most recently at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Besides, Marsh is hardly helping Clinton by stressing triangulation as a fault.

Much of the criticism of Obama is centered around bringing up Social Security. I find the attacks from the left that Obama shouldn’t say there is a problem with Social Security to be quite similar to the claims of the right that there is no problem with health care. Certainly the problems with health care are more severe, and conservatives sometimes might exaggerate the problems faced by Social Security, but that does not mean that there are no problems at all. Similarly the warnings of privatization sound quite a bit like the right’s use of scare tactics about “socialized medicine” to attack every serious health care proposal. Placing a small percentage of Social Security into the stock market might not have been a good plan, but it is an exaggeration to call it privatization.

The real problem with Bush’s plan was not that use of the stock market is inherently evil but that this would take away funds which are used to pay benefits to current beneficiaries, exacerbating rather than helping the current problems. I’ve seen some liberal bloggers even respond to Bush’s proposal by criticizing the entire idea of investing in the stock market. This is also an unsound financial belief, but it would be best to encourage such investments through tax breaks and tax deductible investment plans as opposed to through Social Security.

It is also strange that Clinton supporters would attack Obama on Social Security as they are both saying very similar things. Both have discussed increasing the cap on income which is taxed, possibly with a donut hole so that only wealthier taxpayers would pay more. They are both taking a risk with this approach. Increasing the cap could undermine political support for Social Security in the long run. Social Security only considers a portion of income in determining benefits and therefore places a cap on income which is taxable to match this. If the system is changed and someone making $200,000 had to pay Social Security taxes on their entire income, but benefits continue to be limited as if they were making around $100,000, Social Security would not seem to be a very good deal to those making well over $100,000. The program would increasingly become a welfare program as opposed to a retirement and disability benefits program which all share in. It is the feeling that Social Security is a shared program and not a welfare program which has limited political challenges to the program. If taxes are increased while income upon which benefits are based remains capped affluent voters will have decreased motivation to accept the program, making Republican schemes to go even further in privatizing Social Security sound more favorable.

While I was disappointed in Obama for only considering raising the cap on Social Security as a solution, I am also apprehensive in trusting Hillary Clinton on this issue. Besides also considering a similar increase in the cap, she has proposed having a commission evaluate the problem after the election. The last time Hillary Clinton approached a problem in this manner (on health care) it was a disaster.

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11 Comments

  1. 1
    Jason T. says:

    Ron,

    Your statements are rational, but I have one bone to pick regarding the facts.

    You say you were disappointed in Obama for “…only considering raising the cap on Social Security as a solution…”.

    On Meet the Press yesterday, Senator Obama explained that he believes that raising the cap is the correct solution. He also said that before he implements any plan, he’ll seriously consider all input and solutions.

    As directly as possible he said that he goes in with his own considered opinion on the issue of Social Security, but he can and would change his mind if presented with compelling evidence or a superior solution. This is somewhat politically risky, because people can and do portray a willingness to listen as weakness.

    But of course this is how such decisions should and do happen–the executive knows what he thinks going in, but ought to preserve a possibility of being persuaded by expert advisors.

    He’s also said repeatedly that he’ll seek solutions from all schools of political thought. He’ll be listening to fiscal conservatives and free-market theorists as well, before the plan is set in granite.

    This approach reminds me more than anything of the way Lincoln set up his advisors. Lincoln’s advisors came from different ends of the political spectrum, and were chosen for their minds. They fought each other vigorously while forming policy.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Jason,

    I was basing that statement on an article quoting Obama last week in which they say that Obama has ruled out other possibilities. It is certainly possible that the article got it wrong, or that Obama reconsidered this. I’m glad to hear that he was open to other solutions on MTP. I have the show recorded but haven’t watched it yet.

    I agree that such decisions are often changed by the time actual legislation is proposed. That is one reason that my disagreement with Obama based upon what I read of his position last week wasn’t a deal killer in terms of possibly supporting him. Obama remains on my short list of possible candidates. I am also far more optimistic that Obama would listen to fiscal conservatives and those outside of his circle than candidates such as Clinton and Edwards.

  3. 3
    Jason T. says:

    Ron,

    My source for information on Lincoln’s administration (which I couldn’t remember earlier) is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals”.

  4. 4
    F.Igwealor says:

    Raising the cap is just fair for all American.

    Why should I be paying all taxes on my little $45K while my manager is shielded from taxes of half of his $200K salary? That’s unfair folks!!! It’s unfair for me to bear the burden of our seniors.
    Everybody should be made to pay their fair share of taxes.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    F.Igwealor,

    No it is not fair for all Americans. You pay Social Security taxes on your full $45,000 income and the full income is used to determine Social Security benefits.

    Your manager only pays Social Security on about $100,000 of his income and only this amount is considered in determining benefits. Otherwise your manager would pay more in Social Security taxes than someone making $100,000 but receive no further benefits. As I discussed in the post, this makes Social Security a bad deal for those making much over $100,000 and will erode political support for the program. The program is already tilted somewhat to give the person who makes $45,000 more back relative to the person making $100,000 or more.

    (I’m using $100,000 as a round number. The actual number changes annually).

  6. 6
    Malinda says:

    The Social Security Sytem needs totally revamping or abolished.

    1. Eliminate Medicare and Medicaid

    2. Close down the offices and beauracracy presently being paid to keep the Medicare and Medicaid systems functioning; thereby, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and freeing people up to make their personal decisions and choices in health insurance when they retire without government oversight

    3. Use the funds from the closed beauracracy, savings in salaries, sold buildings and the maintenance of the same, to fund ongoing support for the Social Security payouts for workers who paid in who are 50 and older until the last of those people die

    4 Stop contributions by people under the age of 50; thereby, freeing up amounts for these younger workers to determine their form of savings for retirement

    5. Eliminiate all Medicare and Medicaid contributions; thereby, freeing people up to make their personal choices in health insurance

    6. Close down the government beauracracy that manages medicare and medicaid; thereby, saving millions of dollars dollars

    7. Stop trying to make Social Security an equitable system—-few people will recoup the amount of dollars they ontribute to social security during their working years when they retire as most people outlive their contributions if they have worked for 50 years.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    There’s little point in arguing over our differences of opinion here. There’s one technical error in your plan in # 5. There are Medicare taxes and therefore it is plausible to argue for eliminating Medicare contributions if you really think a totally private system would work. However there are no analogous contributions with Medicaid.

    It would be difficult enough for retired people to finance their own replacement for Medicare (which is why the system was created). It is even harder to argue for people making their own choices to replace Medicaid as Medicaid is based upon income and those who qualify for Medicaid don’t have the resources to do so (unless you are arguing for some sort of publically financed voucher system to replace the government financed system).

  8. 8
    Malinda says:

    I appreciate your response. Even though we may not agree totally, I feel that discussion is important.

    Medicaid was a tack-on to Medicare and Social Security in recent years. Social Security was never intended to take care of the dieing stage of life . Medicaid is used in the end stages of life for people going to nursing homes or assisted living who either have no long-term care insurance or who have no resources to cover expenses. ( Most people who go to nursing homes survive no more than three years and most less according to the insurance companies selling long-term care policies.)

    The cost for Medicare Insurance is now deducted from the Social Security recipient’s monthly Social Security check.

    These same monies given directly to the recipient can enable them to pay a non-governmental provider for medical insurance, for insurance for end-of-life care that is currently funded under Medicaid for some, but not all people—–bundled together in one policy by a private provider.

    Presently, many retired people are insurance poor without the state-of-the art services due to Medicare determining what service a retired person should have.

    They pay the government for Medicare Insurance, private companies for co-insurance to cover medical expenses that Medicare will not , and for long term care policies in case they end up in nursing homes or assisted living.

    As I see it, the only proper role of the Federal Government would be to stipulate the parameters for charging for the policies but not the management of the policies or of the persons.

    Basically, my approach is to give the person control of their own affairs rather than the federal government thereby eliminating the major cost of a bureaucracy in the process.

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    Malinda,

    Medicaid was intended as a program for the poor (with Medicare handling the retired and disabled). However, as you said, Medicaid’s use for the poor is increasingly being used for duel eligible beneficiaries who use Medicaid to supplement Medicare, including for nursing home care.

    I was primarily dealing with a technical point in your first post. Medicare is funded by a combination of money taken out of payroll taxes and from beneficiary’s Social Security checks. Therefore, regardless of whether one agrees with you, your point number 5 in your first post is logical with regards to Medicare. However there are no such contributions which are specifically for Medicaid so even if you want to eliminate Medicaid you should still remove mention of Medicaid from “Eliminiate all Medicare and Medicaid contributions.”

    “These same monies given directly to the recipient can enable them to pay a non-governmental provider for medical insurance, for insurance for end-of-life care that is currently funded under Medicaid for some, but not all people—–bundled together in one policy by a private provider.”

    What about Medicaid’s main function–of providing health care to the poor before end of life.? Even if everyone had insurance for end of life care, this would do nothing for Medicaid’s main purpose. There’s also the question of how they would have paid for the end of life insurance. Medicaid includes some people who don’t go on Medicaid until end of life when their resources are depleted and theoretically they could have purchased insurance. However the typical Medicaid patient is on Medicaid due to poverty and are unemployed. How do they purchase insurance to replace Medicaid?

    While there are counter arguments as to whether it is plausible, it is logically consistent to argue to replace Medicare with private insurance. However this still leaves the question of what would be done about the poor who cannot afford private insurance.

    “Presently, many retired people are insurance poor without the state-of-the art services due to Medicare determining what service a retired person should have.”

    Actually Medicare is generally less restrictive than most private insurances. Private insurances have a financial incentive to restrict care to increase profits and some insurances greatly abuse this. Medicare is required by law to cover all necessary and reasonable services. While they do impose some restrictions they are generally trivial compared to the restrictions imposed by most private plans.

    “Basically, my approach is to give the person control of their own affairs rather than the federal government thereby eliminating the major cost of a bureaucracy in the process.”

    If the goal is to decrease bureaucracy then this would actually be an argument for a single payer plan. The amount of money which Medicare uses for bureaucracy is actually well below that of the insurance industry. There are other arguments against a single payer plan, but reducing bureaucracy is not a good one.

    Getting back to your previous comment, you address the classic libertarian dilemma of how we get from “here” to “there” with your cut off at age 50. Obviously that makes sense from the point of view that many people already on Social Security could not get by without it, and those over 50 would not have much time to save for their own retirement. I am curious what you would do about those under 50 who have already paid into the system. Would you have some sort of refund for money paid in, or would that money be lost to them?

  10. 10
    yucca says:

    Ron,

    It appears to me that you are the only one left who thinks that Obama has a chance…

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    Yucca,

    That’s a strange thing to say when Hillary has been falling in the polls and an increased number of pundits are predicting that Obama will win. Considering the poor predictive value of national polls before the first votes are taken, and considering that a majority of Democrats prefers someone other than Clinton, this race remains up for grabs.

    Obama is in an especially good position as he is the second choice of most. If Clinton can’t get a knock out blow in Iowa and New Hampshire and it turns into a Clinton versus Obama race, adding the support from other candidates to Obama’s numbers could move him ahead.

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