An email yesterday from a progressive group said that after large numbers of individual progressives and the joint efforts of various progressive organizations took up the issue of cuts to those programs, "more than 20 members of Congress have vowed to vote against any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits."
OK, it could be worse. But that's less than 10% of Congressional Democrats making a promise. Don't forget, politicians often don't keep promises.
Consider this article at the Harris Poll site. It says of last year's poll results, "By more than 3-to-one most people oppose cuts in Social Security, education and health care programs".
Consider this: Democrats who were elected to Congress tend to come from states or districts which are more progressive than the country as a whole. So public opinion among the constituents of Congressional Democrats - and especially among the Democratic voting blocks - probably oppose cuts to Social Security in even larger percentages than what the Harris poll showed for the entire country.
It sounds like what the email was telling me was this: After progressives organized and exerted a lot of pressure, they were able to get promises from less than 10% of the Democrats whose constituents oppose cuts by something like a 4-to-1 margin. We're not asking Democrats to go out on a limb here and vote against the preference of their constituents - but to simply go along with the overwhelming desire of their people.
I don't claim public opinion goes along with progressives on all issues, but there are some where it strongly does. Democratic politicians don't want to lose votes by openly talking against public opinion on matters like Socieal Security. Yet they're not doing what they might to use an issue like this where public opinion and Republican politicians come into conflict. This is an opportunity Democrats could be using to weaken their main electoral opponents. Democrats don't have to have an opinion on cutting Social Security to take advantage of a chance to look good to most voters and to beat Republicans.
They don't have to have an opinion on cutting Social Security to gather the benefits of going along with the majority. But one would think they must have an opinion on cutting Social Security to cause them to shy away from taking the benefits of going with the majority and to give up an opportunity to weaken their electoral opponents. Or if they don't have an "opinion", they have a vested interest that runs counter to the majority. Democrats aren't simply non-ideological politicians who will go whichever way the public opinion wind may blow. When their very own constituents support a progressive issue 4-to-1, you can't count on Congressional Democrats supporting it 2-to-1 or even a majority. Big money makes the difference between what the public wants and how many Democrats will go against public will or only go part-way with the public.
What politicians say only means so much. You even have to look closely at how they vote. During the 2011 "debt deal", Democratic Congressman Cleaver criticized the deal as a "Satan sandwich" and voted "No" on the bill. Afterward, in an interview, Rep. Cleaver explained that he knew there were enough Congresspeople who were going to vote Yes on the bill to guarantee its passage, so his No vote didn't prevent the deal being enacted. However, he said that if there weren't enough Yes votes to pass without him, he would have had to vote Yes as well. Democrats usually don't confess to this sort of behavior, but it's common enough. They'll vote the way they talk as long as it doesn't stop regressive legislation, but they show their true colors when it matters. When we look at voting records, we have to look at this kind of behavior. Do that and voting records don't look so pretty.
As long as big money has such influence in politics, that's how it will be with most elected officials. That's why we need to make clear to elected officials if they don't aggressively act on getting big money out of politics, we'll have to find someone else who will.
This is critical today. Citizens United let more big money in some ways. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging limits on a person's total contributions to various candidates. Further attacks on campaign finance limits are inevitable. Gerrymandering has caused dramatic misrepresentations of voters' will. There have been attempts at voter suppression / intimidation. There are absurdly long voter lines in communities where they want to discourage voting. There are other ways the choices of the majority of voters is being undermined. Every year we use justifications to support candidates who are too influenced by big money to fight for these basic fundamentals of democracy, the more democracy erodes - making it even tougher to fix it the next year.
We should focus on a platform of issues like Social Security that have large public passion, plus an aggressive fight to end these threats to democracy. Put our energy into those who really fight for those things. Make clear that those who won't fight for democracy or for what a 3-to-1 majority wants have to decide whose side they're on. The clock on our democracy is ticking away.