Six Degrees of Social Security: The President, the Senator and the Billionaire

It's time to untangle the knots and expose the anti-Social Security network to the light. Perhaps the socialist can help Democrats reclaim their party's signature achievements.
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President Obama and Vice President Biden both gave powerful speeches this evening, summoning the ideal of an inclusive nation and effectively distinguishing their mainstream American views from their opponents' radical right-wing vision. The only real false notes were the passages in which they both embraced a right-wing set of proposals known as "Simpson Bowles."

That means they were embracing a plan which would cut Social Security benefits and raise its retirement age. It also means they were embracing the ideology of a small network of well-funded individuals who are determined to take our country down the austerity path that is destroying Europe - and who may be personally antagonistic toward the President as well.

"Now," said the President, "I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission." Vice President Biden said of their opponents, "they rejected every plan put forward by us, by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission they referenced or by any other respected group."

But that commission offered neither "principles" nor a "plan" -- in part because Republicans like Paul Ryan wouldn't raise taxes of any kind, but also because some liberals on the commission refused to go along with its proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. As a result, it never agreed on any recommendations.

The President and Vice President are actually referring to private proposals put forward by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of that deadlocked group. Those proposals would cut Social Security through a variety of means, would cap the Medicare budget (which is effectively the same as cutting it), and -- once you cut through all the doubletalk -- would actually cut tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while raising them dramatically for everyone else.

Simpson is a former Republican senator, while Bowles is an ex-Democratic staffer and Morgan Stanley director. Both are longtime allies of conservative hedge fund billionaire and former Nixon Cabinet member Pete Peterson, a long-time adversary of Social Security, Medicare and government's rightful role in our society. Peterson-funded organizations provided staffers, as well as ideological guidance, to the Simpson Bowles Commission.

Those staffers worked under the direction of David Walker, who was CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation until he left to lead an affiliated Peterson organization called the Comeback America Initiative. Who is David Walker? He's a former Comptroller General of the United States, a longtime Peterson operative and a featured figure in the rabidly anti-Obama film just released by Dinesh D'Souza, the far-right apparatchik whose attack book against the President was hilariously entitled The Roots of Obama's Rage.

The roots of his rage? Whatever you think of his views, the cool-headed Barack Obama is arguably the least rageful public figure this country's had in many years. If that title isn't designed to trigger the "angry black man" fear gene in pale right-wingers, what is?

Walker is given five minutes or so in a movie which targets Obama, the leader who allowed Walker's own staffers to affix the Presidential seal to their own work. That's gratitude for you. And while Walker might not have known how much of a hate piece the movie would become -- although how could he have not, given D'Souza's past writings? -- he has yet to repudiate it.

The Peterson network is determined to foment hysteria about something that is not our most urgent economic problem. As Joe Firestone notes, government spending (as a percentage of GDP) has been higher in this country at other points in history, and many economically healthy countries spend more.

The Peterson crowd is nearly as fond of publicity gimmicks as it is of cutting Medicare and Social Security. My favorite such attempt was something called "Budgetball," which we called "a blend of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Deathrace 2000." The latest initiative is "10 Million a Minute," a national "bus tour" to promote the evils of spending ... well, of spending American money on American goals for American people.

Call it the "Magical Misery Tour": Somehow the Peterson crowd thought that it would electrify the nation to see Walker, a former Comptroller General, ride around on a converted Greyhound (or whatever vehicle they've purchased) with other aging anti-government types. As part of that initiative, Walker co-authored an op-ed with Ross Perot -- for the youth of America that must have been like getting Andre 3000 back together with Big Boi -- and that's when the fun began.

Sen. Bernie Sanders fired back with a letter to the editor which said, among other things, that the bus tour "is funded almost entirely by Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has pledged to spend $1 billion of his fortune on a campaign to cut Social Security and other vitally important programs while slashing tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations."

Walker responded, "The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is not funding this tour at all -- not one cent. Instead, the funding is coming from my own speaking and writing fees, and contributions from others with varying political affiliations."

"Astroturfing" -- giving a richly-endowed group the appearance of a grassroots organization - seems to be a common tactic for the Peterson crowd. The Peterson Foundation itself says that Walker's group "has received a three-year grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation which funds most of its operations." Walker said "I am very grateful to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation for offering the support and resources that will help make the Comeback America Initiative a reality."

Peter G. Peterson: To you and me, he may be an anti-government billionaire. But to David Walker, he's "the wind beneath my wings."

The precise truth may not be known until the Peterson Foundation and all its related groups open their books to outside review. But there is a close-knit network of operatives with closely-knit funding sources and a common purpose: cutting Social Security and Medicare, while lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

Why does this matter? Because David Walker, a longtime Pete Peterson employee, is the chief architect and ideologue of the so-called "Simpson Bowles" plan. And he's prominently featured in a propaganda piece which is not only profoundly conservative but is also fervently and personally anti-Obama.

For their part, both Simpson and Bowles have offered effusive praise for radical right-wing Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. Last time we looked, Paul Ryan was on a national ticket -- running against Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The "Simpson Bowles" plan, which has been astroturfed as the product of a "bipartisan commission," is a conservative anti-government wish list framed by Pete Peterson, executed in large part by David Walker, and delivered by a Simpson/Bowles/Walker triumvirate that appears to stand in personal opposition to Barack Obama and Joe Biden -- and is certainly in ideological opposition to the views so eloquently presented in their speeches.

Polls show that socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, by contrast, is articulating the views of most Republican voters -- as well as voters overall -- when he opposes the Simpson Bowles agenda for Social Security and taxation. In this upside-down world of phony publicity rackets and astroturfed activism, the socialist speaks for Republicans while the Democrats embrace their ideological foes.

It's time to untangle the knots and expose the anti-Social Security network to the light. Perhaps the socialist can help Democrats reclaim their party's signature achievements. The President and Vice President should repudiate Simpson Bowles, which was little more than a Trojan Horse in the Democratic convention hall, and unequivocally defend Social Security and Medicare.

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