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How Obama Could Kill the Democratic Party

(Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

If President Obama doesn’t watch out, he could shoot Santa Claus. And if he does go ahead and shoot Santa Claus, that will mean the end of the Democratic Party.

In the coming weeks, the president is expected to announce his new budget plan for fiscal year 2015. And while more than a year into his second term in office, when he should have the Democratic Party behind him, many progressives are worried.

That’s because the last time President Obama put forward a budget proposal, it included a plan to use the so-called “Chained CPI” to calculate Social Security cost of living increase that account for inflation.

According to budget hawks, Chained CPI more accurately takes how seniors in response to inflation, and therefore saves the government money. If the price of hamburger goes up, and seniors start eating chicken, then the government stops measuring the price of hamburger and instead starts measuring the price of chicken, thus avoiding having to help seniors keep up with inflation. In reality, this a sneaky way to cut Social Security benefits over time.

When President Obama first proposed using Chained CPI last April, progressives were outraged, and rightly so. The idea that a Democratic president – a president from the party of Roosevelt, who invented Social Security – could become the first chief executive ever to cut Social Security is unacceptable.

That’s why this time progressives aren’t messing around. Last Friday, a group of 16 senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote a letter to President Obama urging him not to propose cuts to Social Security or any other social safety net programs in his fiscal year 2015 budget.

Let’s hope President Obama listens to those 16 senators. Because if he doesn’t, and goes ahead and cuts Social Security, that would kill the Democratic Party.

Let me explain.

At its core, the Democratic Party has always been party of “Santa Claus.” It has been the party that gives you stuff, namely Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the 40 hour work week, the right to unionize, free public schools, Head Start, food stamps, school lunch – the list goes on.

Acting like Santa Claus is, of course, the right thing to do for the general welfare of “We the People,” and fulfilling the general welfare is a requirement of government, at least according to the Constitution.

But acting like Santa Claus isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also how politics are supposed to work in a democratic republic. Giving people what they want and need made the Democratic Party successful in election after election in the twentieth century. It won Roosevelt four terms in office, it won Lyndon Johnson his massive victory in the 1964 presidential race, and it kept Republicans out of power in the House of Representatives from 1955 until 1995.

As long as the Democratic Party acts like Santa Claus it will win elections because Republicans, who at their core oppose the social safety net, will look like Scrooge in comparison. That’s just a fact.

Republicans know this. That’s why they came up with a Santa Claus strategy of their own. First outlined in a 1976 article by conservative strategist Jude Wanniski, the Republican Santa Claus strategy is simple: instead of giving people the “gift” of healthcare or the “gift” of retirement savings, Republicans should give them the “gift” of tax cuts.

If the Republican Party could successfully become the “Santa Claus of Tax Reduction,” Wanniski argued, it could shrug off the Scrooge reputation that had haunted it since the Roosevelt days and start winning elections again.

Today, it’s obvious that Republicans have read their Wanniski. Since he wrote his influential article, Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have signed massive tax cuts and, except for a brief period between 2007 and 2011, the GOP has retaken control of the House of Representatives.

In other words, the Republican Santa Claus strategy has worked. And it’s worked in two ways. One, as I just mentioned, is to be the tax cut Santa Claus.

The other is by starving the government of revenues. Look at history and you’ll see this: when the Republicans are in power they run up huge national debts and people like Dick Cheney say things like, “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” The day a Democrat becomes president, suddenly the Republicans all start screaming about the national debt and pushing the Democrats to shoot their benefits-based Santa Claus.

That’s why Republicans have been whining about the debt and the deficit since day one of the Obama presidency. Reagan almost tripled the national debt, with nary a peep from Republicans. Clinton came into office, and Republicans started screaming about the national debt, forcing Clinton to “end welfare as we know it,” something that is hurting a lot of families during this recession. Similarly, George W. Bush rang up the bill with his massive tax cuts and two wars, and now Republicans are yelling that Democratic President Obama should privatize Medicare and cut Social Security with a Chained CPI.

And in the bizzaro world of today’s politics, it looks like Republicans might have succeeded in convincing the President that he should shoot the Democrats’ best-ever-in-history Santa Claus program, Social Security.

Make no mistake about it. President Obama’s decision to include Chained CPI in his budget plan last year wasn’t a fluke. He’d just won a huge election victory, and there was no need to cut Social Security. But he still talked about the “Chained CPI.”

That’s why progressives have every right to worry that he might do the same thing this year and call for Chained CPI in his 2015 budget.

And if the president does go ahead and do that it, it would be game over for the Democratic Party. If he cuts Social Security or even just calls for a cut in Social Security, Democrats, not Republicans will become the party of Scrooge. And no one, let me repeat, no one wants to vote for Scrooge.

Democrats have won election after election with their Santa Claus strategy, and in the process, have made America a much better country.

Let’s hope that President Obama recognizes this and takes his hand off the trigger.