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Bill Boyarsky

What's Really at Stake in 2012

Bill Boyarsky
Political Correspondent
Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig. He is a former lecturer in journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Southern California. Boyarsky was city editor of…
Bill Boyarsky

Observing the liberal Democratic critics of President Barack Obama set me wondering whether they ever listen to the Republican candidates. Haven’t they noticed that the Republicans want to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the rest of the economic protections for the poor and the middle class?

For example, take Paul Ryan. Ryan, 42, a Republican from Wisconsin, is chairman of the House Budget Committee and the man behind the conservative House anti-government drive. His Roadmap for America’s Future proposes starting to privatize Social Security, giving Americans small tax credits to buy private health insurance, turning Medicaid for the poor over to the states, and reducing taxes for the rich and for business.

Grover Norquist, spark plug of the anti-tax movement, made it clear that these and other radical portions of the Roadmap would be the controlling guide for the Republicans if they retain control of the House and win the Senate and the presidency. He laid it all out in a speech this month to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

As reported by David Frum in the Daily Beast, Norquist said congressional Republicans will run things, and all the new Republican president will have to do is sign the bills.

“All we have to do is replace Obama, Norquist said. “ … We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.”

The Ryan budget would dismantle the health reform Obama managed to get through Congress, leaving Americans to try to find coverage in an unregulated and rapacious insurance market, helped only by piddling government tax subsidies. It would move toward the long-sought conservative goal of replacing Social Security with so-called private investment accounts. Instead of paying payroll taxes for future Social Security benefits, workers would invest their tax dollars in stocks and bonds. Those 55 and older could stay in the present system. No sense in offending those heavy voting seniors.

In addition, Medicaid would be completely run by the states, including those that want to reduce or eliminate medical aid to the poor. Leaving the nation to Paul Ryan and Grover Norquist would damage the lives of millions.

But instead of worrying about what the Republicans are promising, Obama’s liberal critics see him as their villain. Blogger Scarecrow on firedoglake harshly criticized the foreclosure fraud settlement by the state attorneys general and the administration, saying the Obama team functioned like “criminal defense counsel. … Obama’s people have performed this function for America’s looters over and over again. They did it for Wall Street, the banks, the rich tax evaders, the insurance companies, the oil companies, the gas companies, the coal companies, the CIA, the DoD, and numerous torturers and their legal/policy enablers and associated war criminals in the previous administration.” And liberals “are supposed to bite our tongues, because it could be worse.”

It’s true that Obama has disappointed many supporters. He let the Republicans push him around for too long. While the nation is slowly recovering from the recession, the Obama stimulus was too small. He gave away too much to Wall Street in the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulatory legislation. His Wall Street-oriented team is letting the bankers punch more holes in it. I’m glad he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden, but I don’t like the way his administration is rolling over civil rights in its feverish search for suspected terrorists and leakers.

But looking at his accomplishments in the face of the recession and a reluctant Congress, he’s done pretty well.

Chrysler and GM, saved by a bailout, are making cars, and they and their suppliers employ thousands. If the Affordable Health Care Act—the formal name for Obamacare—survives the Supreme Court and Obama retains the presidency, health care in America will improve considerably. And as happened with Social Security and Medicare, the law could well be strengthened over the years, possibly becoming what we should have had in the beginning: Medicare for all.

Most important, before Obama, no president had been able to push through this kind of health insurance bill designed to cover everybody, not just the elderly and very poor. Future generations will wonder what the fuss was about. They will hardly believe there was a time when those with pre-existing conditions were denied health insurance, when coverage was unaffordable for the poor and a substantial portion of the middle class, when 50 million Americans were without any coverage at all.

As James Fallows wrote in the current issue of The Atlantic, “the test for presidents is not where they begin but how fast they learn and where they end up. Not even FDR was FDR at the start.”

I’ve watched the Republican debates and read their materials, catching every pandering move they make to the party’s right wing. Actually, with the possible exception of the changeable Mitt Romney, they’re not pandering. They believe in the fantasy world of an Ayn Rand novel.

If they win they have a Road Map for America’s Future and a guide in author Rep. Paul Ryan. In reality, it’s a road map to the cruel past of the early 20th century, one far different from Obama’s vision of our future. Is this where the progressive critics want to go?

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