The word is out in Washington. When the president announces his deficit-reduction proposals next week, he will definitely not suggest any hit on Social Security nor any increase in the eligibility age for Medicare. That’s a small victory for reason and social equity. We can thank the voters of Brooklyn’s 9th Congressional District who this week elected a Republican representative for the first time in nearly ninety years.
The White House spin claims this off defeat has nothing to do with Barack Obama, but that’s tripe. Working politicians know better. The Brooklyn special election was an ominous rebuke to the president, suggesting he may be heading into Jimmy Carter territory. Despite official denials, Obama may be getting the message. At least the White House leakers were busy spreading the word to major media that Obama has dropped any intention of of whacking Social Security or Medicare eligibility in order to entice Republicans into some sort of grand compromise.
Congressional Democrats have felt a stabbing pain in the back whenever the president talked about “entitlement reform.” The Dems hope to run against the Republicans next year on those very issues—defending the great liberal social programs against cut-throat Republicans. Obama was threatening to throw away their best cards. They don’t have many others, given the stalled economy, flirting with recession. The president’s new job-creating plan is thin gruel. Even if Republicans allowed the legislation to pass (which they won’t), it won’t do much to stop the bleeding. Most Democrats pretend to be thrilled anyway. Privately, they have a scary, sinking feeling.
Life is unfair, so is politics. What happened to Jimmy Carter in the spring of 1980 was that fellow many Democrats concluded his presidency was doomed and so they concentrated on personal survival. Many ran campaigns that emphasized their own accomplishments and never mentioned his name. Others actively ran against their own incumbent president (with limited results). Carter’s people kept saying, not to worry—the people will never elect a right-wing kook like Ronald Reagan as their president. The rest is history, as they say.
Obama is not helpless. He could change the game  again and more dramatically by employing the presidency’s vast discretion to launch new government policies on his own, while running hard against the “party of no.” It’s true neither Obama nor his advisers are inclined toward aggressive unilateral action, and they are fast running out of time. But other Democrats should keep banging on him, less politely and more publicly than they have so far. Brooklyn’s Ninth District might be his last wake-up call.