“Well, Senator McCaskill, which side are you on? People who rely on Social Security to get by, or Wall Street movers and shakers?”
—Michael Bersin, Show Me Progress
My only useful United States Senator is, of course, Claire McCaskill. As a liberal, I have defended her many, many times, despite the fact that she does not subscribe to all of my liberal views. And I have defended her despite the fact that she would never, not in a thousand light years, refer to herself as a liberal. But I respect the political reality here in mixed-up Missouri. This isn’t New Jersey. Wait a minute. New Jersey isn’t New Jersey anymore.
In any case, Senator McCaskill, who often—too often for my tastes—brags about being a centrist, is an honorary co-chair of a public policy group called “Third Way,” a group that is causing quite a negative stir among activist Democrats.
I want to direct you to the group’s own definition of what it is about, which begins this way:
Third Way represents Americans in the “vital center” — those who believe in pragmatic solutions and principled compromise, but who too often are ignored in Washington.
That is, in fact, who Claire McCaskill says she is. She has many times talked about her pragmatism and her middle-of-the-road credentials. She even campaigned on them in 2012. And while I agree that compromise is often part of a healthy political process, some folks who fashion themselves as moderates think the compromise should happen at the beginning of the process, not at the end. This is an incredibly important point. Moderation in politics ought to be defined as what is left over after a vigorous fight between visions, not the vision itself. Here’s more from the group’s website:
Our mission is to advance moderate policy and political ideas.
What? No one can “advance” a moderate policy or political ideas. Why? Because if that is where you start, if you start in the middle, the compromise will always be toward the reactionaries because change has a tendency to scare people. These Third Way guys have to know that. As with similar efforts in the past, “moderate” means allowing conservatives to frame the economic issues in terms of debt and deficits, and not in terms of people and empowerment. Thus, the apparent purpose of Third Way (which has been around since 2005) is to shoot the liberal lions in the Democratic Party, or, to put it more kindly, to capture them and put them in zoos so they can do no harm to the interests of those, mostly moneyed Wall Streeters, who fund so-called centrist groups like Third Way.
As you have no doubt heard by now, last week a couple of Third Wayers, the group-think tank’s president and its senior vice president for policy, published a piece (“Economic Populism Is a Dead End for Democrats”) in, yep, The Wall Street Journal. The piece might be considered the loudest shot so far heard in what the self-described centrists apparently want to be an all-out war for the soul of the Democratic Party.
The authors, sounding like any right-wing talk radio host you know, attacked Bill de Blasio, an unashamed liberal who will soon become the next mayor of New York, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has become a hero among liberals and progressives and anyone who can see the difference between people and corporations. The reason for the attack on these two liberals was because of what the authors called their “populist political and economic fantasy.” When you get away from the Limbaugh-like description, what the shoot-the-lions, Wall Street-friendly folks at Third Way are attacking is the idea, advanced by Senator Warren and others, that we should increase Social Security benefits, not look for ways to slash them.
She told Mother Jones, in response to the Third Way article attacking her, that,
We should stop having a conversation about cutting Social Security a little bit or a lot.
Yes. Democrats, including President Obama, should stop agreeing with Republicans about cutting the most effective government social program in history. And Senator McCaskill should relinquish her “honorary” chair title at Third Way. Why? Because McCaskill, running against teapartier Todd Akin in 2012, essentially ran as something of an economic populist herself.
Six weeks before the election, the St Louis Beacon reported on McCaskill’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s nutty remarks “disparaging Americans who don’t pay income taxes”:
“Congressman Akin has made similar type statements,” McCaskill said, “talking about the ‘velvet chains’ of government dependency…”
Such comments by Akin and Romney, she continued, “just show they are out of touch with so many Missourians who have worked hard all their lives, who have retired, and who believed that Social Security would be there for them, and believe that Medicare would be there for them.”
McCaskill’s point during the conference call was to paint Akin as an “extremist” on such issues, citing his campaign statements criticizing both programs.
“He wants to privatize, voucherize” Medicare, she said, and also privatize Social Security.
McCaskill said that the financial problem facing Social Security could be fixed simply by increasing the cap. Now, any income over roughly $110,000 is not subject to the Social Security tax.
“Simply changing the cap,” she said, “secures (Social Security) for 75 years.”
As for Medicare, a program that the Third Way moneyed elites ostensibly want to save by making a “grand bargain” with Republicans, McCaskill also played the economic populist card:
Jim Hagan, a retired teacher and coach in his 70s from Springfield, Mo., recounted the numerous health problems that he and his wife recently have encountered. “We’d be totally bankrupt if we had to pay” for all the surgeries and medical bills, he said. Medicare, said Hagan, “saves lives, including mine.”
McCaskill contends that the GOP approach, as proposed by now-Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, is to allocate a certain annual amount to the elderly and then tell them “now it’s your problem” to find insurance coverage.
Hagan said that most elderly, including himself, wouldn’t be able to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
McCaskill’s campaign has focused heavily on Medicare, Social Security and government-backed student loans.
Now, if that isn’t the same kind of economic populism that Third Way honchos attacked in The Wall Street Journal, please tell me what it is. And tell me why Claire McCaskill would continue to be an “honorary” co-chair—co-chair!—of a group so adamantly opposed to what she ran on just a year ago?
Not only that, as The Nation reported, in order to raise funds, Third Way hired one of the top corporate lobbying firms in Washington—a firm whose “largest client is the US Chamber of Commerce.” The same Chamber of Commerce that hammered Claire McCaskill in 2012! Something is wrong with that picture.
The Nation also noted how “several Third Way trustees gave campaign money to Mitt Romney.” Huh? Remember the gist of that Romney campaign? Most of us are moochers and President Obama was some kind of left-winger who was going to turn the country into a European socialist state full of even more moochers. How can Senator McCaskill co-chair a group that has as trustees people who invested in Mittens?
Now we have HuffPo reporting that one of the writers of the Third Way piece in last week’s WSJ admits that Elizabeth Warren’s liberalism was beginning to gain traction and the money-men had to move fast. Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy who co-authored the infamous op-ed, said:
The impetus was really — we saw after the most recently, this push that okay, it’s time to really move the national Democratic Party to a much more liberal agenda, in this case, Senator Warren was the standard bearer — she’s on the cover of a lot of magazines. We were a bit alarmed by that…
That Social Security plan was the final moment for us. That Social Security plan had been out there but really languishing — because Senator Warren has such a powerful compelling voice, she started talking about it, and it suddenly it became much more talked about and viable alternative.
As I said, the “Social Security plan” that scared the Democrat out of those wealthy “Democrats” at Third Way is very closely related, if not identical, to what Senator McCaskill told Missourians she supported, when she was seeking our votes in 2012. And if Senator McCaskill meant what she said about Social Security last year, if she truly meant it, then she should not only give Third Way its honorary chair back, she should give it back by publicly pounding its pooh-bahs over the heads with it.