Today has been the day for bloggers and pundits everywhere to decry Obama's lack of "seriousness" for failing to enact harsh budgetary measures. (And, in doing so, continuing to punish poor people for a financial crisis inflicted by wealthy people.) Nobody has been more vocal or more consistent than Andrew Sullivan, who has been stamping around, letting out the energy he built up during his illness, I guess. I admire Sullivan's willingness to change his mind on Obama, to upset some of his readership, and to attack a leader he admires. But something is very askew, and it is indicative of a glaring flaw among almost everyone lambasting Obama over his budget.
Sullivan maintains a belief that perhaps some Republican-- some serious Republican-- will come along and take advantage of Obama's supposed weakness and put forth a budget plan that is serious. Well, hope springs eternal in the human heart. You would think that a man who has spent the last decade meticulously following America partisan politics would be immune to getting inspired by a Republican politician, but apparently not. What any actual Republican deficit strategy will amount to is yet more signaling of who is "good" and who is "bad" in the conservative mind. Why go after funding for the arts, when that's such a tiny sliver of federal spending that it's almost entirely symbolic? Because fags and weirdos make art. That's why.You can bet, though, that any proposal that is deemed sufficiently serious by Sullivan and any host of other conservative bloggers will be one that hurts the least well off. That's the shorthand that's being used here, after all. What's serious is what trims poor old people from the Social Security rolls and poor sick people from the Medicare rolls.
Here's what you won't find at the Daily Dish, or at the Corner, or in any of the other places showily demanding seriousness: the actual, human, negative consequences of harsh entitlement cutbacks. I mean, from reading online today, you'd be hard pressed to know why we have Social Security and Medicare at all. I'll tell you why: because our winner-take-all economic system leaves defenseless, impoverished people in its wake. We have Social Security because the sight of so many elderly people left literally homeless and starving , too old and weak to work, was unseemly to an earlier generation that was willing to take less for themselves to provide for others. We have Medicare because it is an obscenity for a country responsible for the atom bomb and the moon landing and the Hoover Dam to allow suffer and die from lack of health care access due to the vagaries of birth and chance. That's why those programs exist.
Cutting them will lead to human misery and death. It will. Cutting Social Security will mean the difference between subsistence and a pitiful existence for untold thousands of senior citizens. Cutting Medicare will mean some people won't get the health care they need when they need it and will suffer the physical pain and indignity that comes with that. That's just the way it is. Yet I keep reading all of these very serious people today failing to mention this reality at all. It's as if we have entitlement programs for no reason.
Phony, showy seriousness is built on complaints, vague talk about thrift and national virtue, and a studied, preach-to-the-choir attitude where well paid journos and pundits see who can outdo each other in advocating measures that will be painful to others but painless for them. Actual seriousness means wrestling with the very serious and real costs of the harsh measures you're advocating. You don't get to show your courage in being ruthlessly pragmatic if you aren't willing to show who you are being ruthless against. The first step is showing the victims. Perhaps if Sullivan gets the deficit-reducing budget he wants, the Dish can start a "Homeless Grandmother of the Day" feature. Democracy needs that sort of thing; it's far, far too easy for people to operate in generalizations that preserve the illusion of painlessness.
It goes both ways, though. Me, I'd like to see our insane military budget cut severely, and you start by pulling almost all of the troops out of the 155 countries we have them currently stationed in. But the defense industry employs a lot of people.... That's the problem with austerity measures; they kill jobs. I hope the people asking for these sweeping budget measures are ready for 12%-15% unemployment....
Update: Sullivan responds. I feel compelled to note that this response is the most explicit he's been in acknowledging this reality since the Obama budget came out.