In my piece for the main site, I write about how Democrats are resurrecting their strategy of scaring seniors about Republicans who want to cut Social Security. A subset of the piece explored how liberal groups are increasingly worried that President Obama’s deficit commission will target the program for cuts. One bit of history that I didn’t get a chance to hash out is that liberal suspicion of Obama on Social Security can be placed at least as far back as 2007, when as a candidate in the Democratic primaries, he said the program was facing a “crisis.” Self-described “progressives” were outraged, and Paul Krugman devoted a column to describing Obama as a “sucker” for buying into the idea that the program was in deep trouble. While Obama would later emerge as a darling of liberals, it wasn’t always the case. Early on, liberals were worried that Obama’s desire to be a post-partisan politician would lead him to concede too much ground to conservatives and the Beltway establishment. Obama’s willingness to acknowledge problems with Social Security was one reason why many liberals initially saw Hillary Clinton and John Edwards as better vehicles to carry the progressive domestic policy torch.
Now, Obama’s deficit commission has liberals concerned. Not only because the pure Keynesians among them are worried that focusing on deficits now will endanger any economic recovery, but also because they’re still suspicious of his aims on Social Security. Personally — as somebody on the opposite side of the debate — I’m not getting myself too excited in anticipation of the commission. Most of the time, these sort of commissions produce a report that gets Washington buzzing for a few days before the talk evaporates. Maybe in this case, the chatter will last for a few weeks. But when it comes to deficits and entitlement reform, Obama has proven himself much more interested in talk and symbolism than in action. My guess is that Obama will embrace a set of liberal policy ideas, with a few proposals designed to look like he’s making concessions to Republicans, even though he isn’t in reality. So I think liberals can rest easy for now.