Tough Love Is For The Other Guy

Paul Ryan said Saturday morning to a gathering of pale-faced Republican geezers in Florida,

Our solution to preserve, protect, and save Medicare will not affect your benefits.

Yesterday I posted a piece on how Republicans, in order to sell their plan to radically revamp Medicare, are appealing to the selfishness of current seniors, hoping those seniors won’t begin to wonder how long young folks will keep paying for benefits those young people will never get.

A retired local conservative commenter, who is living on a military pension, responded to my piece with this:

…cutting military retirement benefits is coming, like it or not by anyone. But you would not do it I hope for those that have planned their lives and are living on such benefits today.

Same with Medicare. People have planned their lives for that program and need it to live as planned.

The idea here is that “I’ve got mine” and it is too bad if folks in the future have to take less, but they should keep paying for “mine.” Nothing could better illustrate what I was trying to say in the piece I wrote than that conservative’s comment.

Another commenter on the piece characterized the conservative’s thoughts this way:

Being a silver-haired geezer myself, I can see that they want to do the same thing to Medicare and Social Security that has been done to the educational system. Hey, WE got our valuable college degrees for peanuts and earned the big bucks during our peak years, but now we realize it wasn’t fair, and so YOU are going to have to suck it up, kid. And don’t come begging at grandpa’s door, because I now believe in tough love!

Amen. Tough love, if you will notice, is almost always directed at someone else.  When Paul Ryan, for instance, had the chance to practice some tough love during the Bush administration and demand that the expanded drug benefit or the two wars be paid for, he made the decision to defer the tough love until later, which happened to be when a Democrat was in the White’s House.

And Ryan’s tough love was in full force when he opposed Obama’s stimulus plan to help start the economic recovery, even though he later sent letters requesting some of the money so his constituents wouldn’t have to suffer from his tough love. (And then, taking lessons from Romney, he lied about doing so.)

But our local conservative commenter, again a man who lives on an inflation-protected military pension that he earned from his years of service, wasn’t finished with his own tough love campaign. He wrote:

The GOP has said economic processes MUST CHANGE today because our national wants far exceed our national resources.

Here is my response to that comment:

What you call our national wants are actually national needs, unless you think we don’t need the social stability that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid provide, or unless you believe we can stop funding the Defense Department.

But even if you consider those things “wants,” you are still wrong in claiming that those wants exceed our national resources. In fact they don’t. We have plenty of national resources, as we are very wealthy.

What we have is a political party, which you almost always support, that has designated most of our national economic resources as untouchable, except when it comes to the military.

And they have decided that the uneven distribution of income in America is not to be feared but to be embraced, as it will somehow inspire the have-nots to work harder so they too can someday send their excess dough to the Cayman Islands for some much needed rest.

The truth is that conservatives controlling the GOP today do not value the stability that comes from social programs, programs they routinely disparage openly and without apology.

For instance, Mr. Obama has been falsely called “the food stamp president” by Newt Gingrich, as if providing food stamps to folks who need them in bad times is worthy of condemnation. It turns out that George W. Bush was actually the food stamp president and God bless him for it. It was the least he could do for helping screw up the economy, which made food stamps such a necessity for many folks.

And you know what your conservative intellectual hero-columnist Charles Krauthammer recently wrote about Bush? He denigrated him for his,

philosophically undisciplined, idiosyncratically free-spending “compassionate conservatism.”

You see, for ideologues like Krauthammer, compassion has no place in conservatism, a point I am happy to make every day.

People like Gingrich and Krauthammer and Rush Limbaugh and a horde of Republican politicians often refer to an “entitlement society,” as if people—they want you to think it is mostly black people—who receive government help aspire to do nothing more than lie around the house and get fat on food purchased with money stolen from taxing “job creators.” That is what the Romney ads falsely claiming that Obama waived the work requirement for welfare benefits is all about.

You see, these folks have always hated the social safety net because most of them have never needed it or have arrived at a place where they know they never will. In one way or another, they’ve got theirs and to hell with everyone else.

And it is that sentiment that serves as the subtext of the Ryan-Romney campaign and that will be what voters affirm or reject in November.

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  1. Duane – I am simplly breathless at the hubris: conservative running on a platform that a Dem is trying to take Medicare away. It’s stunning.


    • Not only is it stunning that Republicans would do such a thing, it is stunning that for the most part the mainstream press is so far helping them to pull it off and keep it going. Most of the coverage I see on straight news goes like this: Republicans are accusing Obama of stealing 716 billion from Medicare and Obama is saying that he isn’t stealing 716 billion from Medicare.

      What the news consumer ends up hearing is that 716 billion number, often without any context for it. And Ryan-Romney just repeat it constantly knowing that reporters, those who at least bother to explain why it is false, will get tired of explaining why it is false. Thus, it will become lodged in the minds of voters.

      I have witnessed in the past week some very bad journalism, beginning with that awful interview of Ryan-Romney on 60 minutes by Bob Schieffer. I think that makes me sicker than watching the Republicans lie about Medicare all day, every day.



  2. Excellent post, Duane and I think the most salient point is to refute the untrue meme that our nation can not afford a modern and equitable social system that includes healthcare. It is affordable if we re-prioritize and re-structure:

    1. Enact a public option for healthcare to cut long-term HC costs by more than half.
    2. Reduce and modernize the Defense Department for the twenty-first century, and gradually stop being the world’s policeman militarily, something President Obama has already begun to tackle by getting out of Iraq and planning to do the same in Afghanistan.
    3. Reform the tax code and recoup enormous savings from the underground economy and tax evaders (including those with offshore accounts). This I suggest should include reducing or eliminating the corporate income tax to encourage the movement of jobs back to America, but embracing a consumption-based tax adequate to the national needs.
    4. Bring back Glass-Steagall and break up the too-big-to-fail banks so we never have to bail them out again.


    • Jim, I think the opposition knows perfectly well that we can find ways to afford it. And they know there are models out there on the rest of the planet that are working wonderrfully and would work for us.

      They just don’t want to do it.

      And that’s the way it is when corporate interests finance and run our government.


      • Moe,

        It’s not just “corporate interests.” I think in many ways corporations would like to get out from under the burden of having to provide health insurance in order to attract the best employees. Internationally that can be highly problematic, since many nations provide public health care plans.

        It is many wealthy individuals who resent the fact that they have to contribute more to others’ well-being because a lot of those individuals truly believe that they achieved what they have on their own and are entitled to decide what they do with their own money.

        Unfortunately, using the American Dream Meme, they have managed to convince a lot of non-wealthy folks that they should resent such re-distributive “schemes” too. You know, we’re all just one big idea away from being Mitt Romney.



        • Good point – what did I hear recenlty? Something like 47 people are funding 50-60% of the Super PAC or their associated 501c4’s?


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  August 19, 2012

    First of all, the “wants” observation came directly from an economics text book. In that respect there is NO DIFFERENCE between a “want and a need”. Economics is the science that tries to balance the imbalance between wants and resources.

    That is NOT a social discussion. It is the whole fundamental purpose of the science (and art) of economics.

    The entire rebutal to my comment was focused, financially on the progressive view that YES, WE CAN PAY FOR IT.

    GREAT, I say but then ask to SEE just how you propose to do so.

    See my latest comment below on a separate blog. “I don’t CARE HOW you propose to pay for Medicare (just the current Medicare)” Come up with a sound financial plan to achieve that worthy goal was my challenge, and has been for a long time.

    In my view Ryan has laid “apples” on the table to discuss in how to pay for Medicare over time. But there are no progressive “apples” to compare HIS plan to yours. All we have are Presidential budget proposals which essentially don’t really pay for anything and those proposals, each and every one were DOA.

    Granted if DEMs held every seat in Congress and the WH we would have wonderful plans to provide much more than you would expect from the GOP. And we would continue to borrow money until……..

    Well Spain for example can only now borrow money at userous rates of interest and thus…….. Forget Greece for sure.

    The really tough poilitical decisons for we the people is how to achieve our “wants” (as defined above) and PAY FOR THEM with avialable resources.

    Again you claim we have the money to pay for all this “stuff”. I disagree and challenge you to show me the math, not the politics that achieves that worthy goal.



    • You wrote,

      I disagree and challenge you to show me the math, not the politics that achieves that worthy goal.

      My challenge to you is to get your head out of your ass and follow what I am saying. Okay?

      Nobody is saying that scarcity is not a reality. Nobody is saying that we have unlimited resources. Nobody is saying that we have the money to pay for every liberal’s wildest social dreams. So stop beating that straw man. He’s already dead. No, he was never alive. You created him in order to persuade yourself that you are winning an argument. You aren’t.

      What I am saying is this: There is a political determination made in terms of what we need as a country and what we may desire. In America the determination is made by The People. We decide, through the ballot box, what our priorities are in a world of scarcity, a world in which we can’t have all we might want.

      Thus, we must decide whether we want the poor and disabled to die in the streets without access to food and shelter and health care or whether to let relatively wealthy and absolutely wealthy people keep more of their wealth.

      Thus, we must decide whether we want older, relatively unproductive folks–those who have grown too old to keep up with a younger work force–to fend for themselves even after a life of hard work at minimal pay or to let relatively wealthy or absolutely people keep more of their wealth.

      Or to put it more personally, we must decide if it is important to keep our commitment to people like you, people who presumably worked hard in the public sector (in your case in the military), and keep paying you the benefits you were promised or to say, “F” you, we’re going to stop giving you cost-of-living raises and raise the cost of your health insurance substantially.

      I can tell you this, Anson. If you were no longer allowed to eat from the public trough, no matter how unjust that might be, you would quickly discover the real difference between “needs” and “wants,” despite what your economics text book says.

      When you talk about limited resources, I’m afraid your idea of limited is quite different from mine. An admittedly crude measurement of national wealth has been attempted and it comes up with this:

      United States: $118 trillion
      Japan: $55 trillion
      China: $20 trillion

      Now, you can’t tell me that there isn’t enough wealth in the U.S. to keep the poor from rotting in the streets, to keep old folks secure in the knowledge that we will help take care of them in their old age, pay for a first-class education system, a national defense sufficient to keep us safe, policemen and firemen and so on. You just can’t make that case. We have the goddamn resources.

      The truth is we have the wealth to do the things that need to be done, with those “needs” being defined by what most people believe is the function of government. The only problem is that some folks, those in the party you support, have fenced off almost all of our national wealth and put it beyond reach. They tell us, as you often do, that we are “broke,” that we don’t have the money to do what needs to be done.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  August 20, 2012

    First, you told me a few months ago to shove it up my ass and now you tell me to get my head out of my ass. Take your pick as I cannot to both at the same time!! Do you think either of those suggestions will shut me up from keep attempting to make “reasonable” points in a political discussion. Check your last bullet above in that regard.

    NOW, you just wrote, “The only problem is that some folks, those in the party you support, have fenced off almost all of our national wealth and put it beyond reach”

    I believe that is an extreme, even “thugish” response but let it stand if you will. To a degree I agree with you.

    But keeping the rhetoric at the polemical level, I will respond that “your side has demanded an increase in wants that all of our national resources combined can NEVER meet all those wants”.

    I don’t mean the incessant “wants” from the radical left either like abolish capitalism or other OWS “solutions”. I mean the “mainstream” wants articulated in the President’s last three or four budget submissions.

    When he last submitted a budget our national debt was about $14 Trillion. That was an increase of about $10 Trillion over our debt from the start of the Bush Administration. Yet over the next 10 years Obama’s budget called for a new debt at the close of those years of about $26 Trillion, a $12 Trillion debt increase over a 10 year period. NOW do you see why his proposal was DOA???

    The ONLY “biparitisan” solution that we have seen in any detail over the last four years has been, in my view, the Presidential Commission offer. And guess what, YOUR and MY President made that DOA right out of the gate, did he not???

    NEITHER political party wanted to suffer the poltical consequences of those recommendations taken as a whole. Nope BOTH parties wanted to cherry pick the incremental solutions that supported their particular political agenda.

    You and I have traded polemics for 4 years now and both of us are still standing. But now “our” level of polemics has reached national levels with NO solutions, other than absolute majority control one way or the other in government.

    Well absolute majority control is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve in a democracy for a substantial period of time based on the history that I have read. In a democracy the tryany of the majority ebbs and flows.

    Well that tryany of the majority has now created a monster relfected in our debt curve in America and sooner or later it will blow up in our faces. Europe is ahead of us by about 10 years in that regard in my view as well.

    I see the “big picture” as an unbelievable stress on democracy as an institution of government and until we the people get our collective heads out of our asses, well stand by for the “cliff” economically. A few “little guys” (Greece, etc.) have already gone over that “cliff” yet us “big guys” say we are “too big or too rich” to have that happen to us.

    I repeat your last bullet above in closing.



  5. janice reed

     /  August 20, 2012

    Shame on you, Duane! Talking about entitlements, have we all forgotten all the recent bailouts for banks, the auto industry, etc, etc. They were “too big to fail,” they were “entitled”. Why is it more respectable to be rich and to be “entitled” to the riches of this country, than to be “entitled” because you are poor and down on your luck, or old, or disabled, or in bad health and no longer able to support yourself. Most of these folks are the ones who did the actual physical work, by “the sweat of their brow” to keep the wealthy in their mansions and yachts.

    I am not saying that because they are wealthy these empire builders did not work, but they could not have built or kept their empires without these folks. See how long they last if everyone “beneath” them quits doing their jobs.

    And I would seriously doubt the poor and middle class are more of a financial drain on the resources of this country than are the very wealthy. The poor and middle class don’t require nearly as much to live comfortably as the very wealthy.

    I agree that there are plenty of greedy old people who can’t see past their own social security benefits or military pensions and don’t care much whether they are available for future generations or not, but there are also those who are not willing to forgo these benefits for their future generations, as long as they get their own.


  6. ansonburlingame

     /  August 20, 2012

    The innuendo’s over my views on maintaining current benefits but changing them in the future is just polemics and you should know that.

    Had the Ryan Plan actually proposed CUTTING current Medicare benefits for people that really need those benefits today, like me, I would oppose the Ryan Plan. ONE of the reasons I oppose ACA is it tries to cut Medicare payments to providers (not beneficiaries). What a sham that looks like, to me.

    If a firm and understandable Dem plan showed how to keep Medicare as we know it today, on a solid and sustainable foundation, financially, I would be all for it as well.

    But what did Dems, alone, do. Medicare remains in a big hole, financially AND we have added ACA to the mix to make it all (HC) an even bigger hole for the future. Why? Well wants outweigh resources in your book, obviously.

    I once again challenge you to “do the math” to make Medicare as we know it today sustainable and then see if you can get it passed democratically. My bet is you cannot do so, raise taxes high enough to pay just for Medicare today.

    Medicare as we know it, military retirement as we know it, National Security OBJECTIVES, as we have known such for decades (and thus too much defense spending), Food Stamps as we know them, and a whole host of OTHER “as we know thems” MUST change in the future.

    Several months ago I wrote a blog on bringing DOD spending down to the $400 Billion range. Yes that is doable BUT ONLY IF our national security objectives change accordingly. To achieve that goal ($400 Billion a year in DOD spending) we would have to follow the Ron Paul approach of abandoning our overseas presence essentially EVERYWHERE. Our lines of defense would be our east and west coasts as well our northern and southern borders as they are today.

    We are on track to cut DOD spending unilaterally by 10% across the board next year but I have not heard a single politician tell us how that will affect our National Security Objectives, those threats against which we currently try to defend ourselves. THAT should be step one in the debate, changing our national security objectives like NO U.S, attempts to control or even influence events in the Mediterrean Sea (just as an example).

    Add to that leting China (if it choses to do so) build their own Navy to control the entire Pacific Ocean in the coming decades.

    Obama won a Noble Prize suggesting we abandon nuclear weapons. Did you hear him say how he would change our National Security Objectives in doing so???

    The change that must occur “sometime” is to balance wants and resources. But so far for the last 10 years all we have done is stalemate ourselfs right over a looming cliff which you progressives say does NOT exist.



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