The People Who Elected Obama Don't Want Cuts to Social Security and Medicare

Voting patterns told a story yesterday. And here is the story they told: working people want a president who works for them.

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson looked at the exit poll in today’s New York Times and found that something significant had changed since ’08. The split between Democrats and Republicans along income lines has grown. In a statement released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, Ferguson wrote:

“Obama’s vote percentage declines in straight line fashion as income rises. He got 63 percent of the votes of Americans making less than $30,000 and 57 percent of those making between $30,000 and $50,000. Above $50,000, the Other America kicks in. Romney won 53 percent of the votes of Americans making between $50,000 and $100,000 and 54 percent of the votes of Americans making above $100,000.”

By contrast, in 2008, the Democrats ran essentially even with the Republicans among Americans making over not only more than $50,000, but more than $100,000. Among Americans making less than $50,000, the Democratic percentages of the vote were high in 2008, but not as lopsided as they were this year.

What does it mean? For starters, it means that struggling people have seen right through the faux populism of the GOP, and they know that between the two parties, the Democrats are slightly more likely to stand up against the dangerous income inequality, wage depression and shredding of social safety nets the Republican Party has embraced. And it means that the Occupy Wall Street movement has enhanced awareness of a system that redistributes income toward the top -- the 99 percent know it, and so do the rich.

Remember, it was the phony debt ceiling debate that set the stage for the Occupy protests to take off. Americans saw plainly that those who protect the interests of the rich were willing to reach into the pockets of ordinary people suffering miserably in a downturn. The dishonest story about how the economy must be “saved” by pinching nickels and dimes from future retirees, sick people, children, and other vulnerable Americans clearly has not fooled everyone. Yesterday’s vote means that ordinary folks trying to get by have chosen the leader they think is most likely to protect their interests – and they are very, very interested in Social Security and Medicare.  

The president should heed the message voters sent as negotiations for a so-called “Grand Bargain” (what white-collar criminologist Bill Black has more properly called a “Grand Betrayal”) heat up in the face of another phony crisis meant to give the fatcats a new shot at redistributing income upward.

Sadly, many liberals who try to stay informed by reading the papers and listening to the radio are still unaware that Social Security does not add to the deficit. They have been told such a relentless stream of lies on the subject that they don’t know the program is in fine condition, and in the words of Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, is quite clearly the “poster child for fiscal responsibility.” They don’t realize that if and when a tweak is needed down the road, this can be done very efficiently by simply requiring the rich to pay Social Security taxes on the money they make over the current low ceiling of just over $100,000. And they have not heard that while the horse race of the election was distracting everyone, a gang of cynical looters led by Erskine Bowles has been plotting behind closed doors to snatch away Social Security and Medicare under the guise of “deficit-cutting.” And they haven’t yet fully understood that the best way to help the economy is to get unemployed Americans working again, and that cutting Social Security and Medicare is counterproductive.

The snakeoil is still selling, and it is being pushed in newspaper editorials across the country today that shamefully encourage Obama to betray the people who have just put him back in the White House.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues in his most recent book, The Price of Ineqality, the continued redistribution of income toward the rich is not only immoral and a cause of social unrest, it is economic stupidity. The economy is weakened when people don’t have enough money in their pockets to buy what they need. To use the excuse of the recession and phony crises in order to rob Americans is nothing short of criminal. The working people who elected Obama did not cause the financial crash. They have been squeezed and squeezed in the last four decades to the point of desperation. They deserve a break.

Memo to Obama and the Congress: You have a mandate from the hard-working people of this country not to bargain away their health, their dignity and the retirements they have earned. The social safety net in the United States is already woefully meager compared to other industrialized countries and already makes us look mean-spirited and uncivilized to much of the world. To further reduce it will be another step toward turning a once-great nation into a third-world country of barbed-wire fences and people with nothing left to hope for. The people have elected you. They will not silently stand by in the face of a hold-up.

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