President Obama’s decision to join Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren in calling for expansion of Social Security is a big win for the left wing of the Democratic Party. Liberal Democrats and their allies in the labor union movement put this idea on the table several years ago to try to kill off enthusiasm from centrist Democrats for reducing Social Security benefits. Their strategy worked.
But in addition to a tactical win for the left, Obama’s turnabout on Social Security is the result of a cycle of tactical ineptitude on the part of the American conservative movement.
Five years ago, conservatives had the opportunity to get a Democratic president to sign legislation that would have substantially cut entitlement spending. In exchange, they were asked to agree that high-income Americans should pay higher taxes. They refused, thinking in part that preventing Obama from scoring a bipartisan achievement would make him easier to beat in 2012.
Obama was reelected anyway. Taxes on high-income households went up anyway. And now the politics of entitlement spending have shifted drastically to the left. The Republican Party’s 2016 nominee says he opposes cuts in Social Security benefits, and mainstream Democrats have flipped away from Obama’s openness to cuts to the position that benefits should be enhanced.