THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CRIMINAL"

Media-appointed populist Mike Huckabee reassures CEOs everywhere that raking in the cash while laying off the workers who made it possible isn’t the kind of “criminal” activity that the government should do something about:

In one memorable riff at the Reagan Library early this year, Mr. Huckabee called it “criminal” for corporate CEOs to take fat bonuses while shipping the jobs of ordinary workers overseas, adding “If Republicans don’t stop it, we don’t deserve to win in 2008.” In a Christmas eve interview on CNBC, I asked Mr. Huckabee what he intended to do about it. His answer: nothing soon in the way of new laws or regulations. He said he would use the bully pulpit to shine a spotlight on the practices and seek increased responsibility from corporate boards of directors.

So breathe easy, rich guys: under a Huckabee administration, the only CEOs who get locked up will be the ones with HIV.

I USED TO THINK

Anyone who reads the New York Times on-line without a pop-up blocker has been subjected to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison exulting that “I used to think. Now, I just read The Economist.”

Of course he’s kidding. But it’s not so funny.

Leaf through the past few issues of The Economist, and you’ll find unsigned articles calling on Lula to cut back pensions, on David Cameron to promise shrinking social spending, and on the Democratic Leadership Council not to go wobbly against organized labor. Then read over this parade of praise for the magazine – as a news source that saves you the time of having to read any of the other ones. Ted Turner draws a favorable contrast with Time Magazine (yes, that Time Magazine), which apparently is “too populist.” No need to worry about populism from The Economist.

Now if the same roster of CEOs stepped up singing the praises of, say, the Wall Street Journal, heads would turn over why a “conservative” paper’s reporting was being taken as holy writ by so many powerful people (never mind that the news section of the paper isn’t so different in bent from what you would get in the Times). But when so many in the global overclass quote chapter and verse from a “neoliberal” paper laying down structural adjustment through shrinking spending and shredded security as the best medicine for every situation, that’s another story. Or rather, it’s not a story.

MONEY, IT’S A HIT

Something else about Lieberman-Lamont: Their race brings together two of the less popular archetypes in American public life: the incumbent creature of Washington and the guy with more money than God.

That’s not a coincidence.

Under the “one dollar, one vote” system undergirded by the “money is speech” regime set forth in Buckley, the ability to raise and spend money ranks high on the already frightful list of institutional advantages held by incumbents. The ability to raise money is the first mark of legitimacy in the eyes of the media and political establishments who too often serve as gatekeepers between would-be challengers and the attention of the electorate. Ostensibly liberal people pledge fealty to the doctrine that serious candidates should be able to raise serious money.

Some millionaire candidates, of course, fail spectacularly. Some spend enough of their dough to leave the incumbent at a significant spending disadvantage. Some do both.

But wherever one comes down on what we should or shouldn’t assume about millionaires’ character and suitability to represent us, the difficulty of unseating an incumbent without being one should concern us.

Nathan’s had a series of good posts recently the kind of social security reform we should all be behind: taking on the regressive income cap on the payroll tax so that Bill Gates no longer can finish earning his payroll contribution for the year long before he wakes up on New Year’s Day.  Payroll taxes are a huge chunk of the tax contributions made by low income Americans in the post-Reagan era, and that a CEO making millions a year pays no more in absolute dollars than an employee making $90,000 is an outrage we should be hearing much more about from the Democratic side of the aisle.  It’s time they did, because it would be good for the country and as Nathan observes, it would be good politics as well:

The argument against talking about a deal is reasonable as short-term politics: when your opposition is stumbling, let them fall on their feet. But that does buy the idea that there’s nothing wrong with Social Security that needs fixing. No, there is no funding crisis, but the reality is that social security is fundamentally a regressive tax…This has been a problem for decades and progressives never took proactive action to improve the situation. Which opened the door for this rightwing attack in the first place…We know that House Republicans won’t agree to elminating the payroll tax cap, so there is no danger that proposing it as a reform will be met with any real negotiation on the issue. But we can slam the conservatives for supporting such a regressive policy.

And since progressives don’t believe there is a crisis, we don’t think there needs to be any new revenue raised TODAY, so any rise in revenue from eliminating the payroll tax cap should be matched with an overall cut in payroll tax rates paid by average workers– probably equivalent to saving them 2-3% of their income. Yes, Dems should be proposing a TAX CUT! You want wedge politics, you’ve got it. Many progressives have pushed for raising the cap to cut payroll taxes over the years (see here), and we should not abandon pushing the idea just as national attention is on social security. Progressives are not going to revive their national fortunes by only playing defense and defending the status quo. They need to play political jujitsu to take ideas put on the national agenda by Bush and use that debate as a vehicle for selling a vision of better, more progressive alternatives. Otherwise, we may win a few rearguard fights, but we won’t move forward in building broader support for the changes WE want.

And as Nathan further notes, eliminating the cap will keep social security solvent for most of a century, while gaining many more voters than it would lost. The polling bears it out as well…