Crusade of a Lifetime

I mentioned the annual Pete Peterson Poor People Ritual Sacrifice confab earlier, but this piece about the man’s material devotion to his cause by Ryan Grim is a must-read:

According to a review of tax documents from 2007 through 2011, Peterson has personally contributed at least $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and government spending as in a state of crisis, in desperate need of dramatic cuts. Peterson’s millions have done next to nothing to change public opinion: In survey after survey, Americans reject the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare. A recent national tour organized by AmericaSpeaks and largely funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation was met by audiences who rebuffed his proposals.

But Peterson has been able to drive a major shift in elite consensus about government spending, with talk of “grand bargains” that would slash entitlements, cut corporate tax rates and end personal tax breaks, such as the mortgage deduction, that benefit the middle class.

To put Peterson’s spending in context, all corporations and unions combined spent less than $4 billion on lobbying in 2011.

This shows, once again, just how dangerous it is to have this .001% that is richer than God deciding they’d like to buy themselves a government. They can, literally, afford it. Just as we are seeing obscenely wealthy people write checks for millions to Super PACs without blinking an eye, ideologues like Peterson are willing to put up even more over time to completely change the basic structure of government for their own gain.

The article goes on to describe the breadth of his endeavors to shred what’s left of the safety net and it’s amazingly comprehensive. I’ll just add a bit of history from an earlier post of mine:

Pete Peterson is not a “centrist.” He’s not a liberal either, although he’s pretended to be both over the years depending on which constituency he was trying to con at the time. He has one mission and one mission only: to end “entitlements.” There is no deal, short of that, that will satisfy him and as long as the beltway considers him and his ilk to be nice, centrist deficit hawks instead of the wrecking crew they are, they will be right there with him until he (or whoever follows him) gets the job done.

I suppose it’s possible to imagine a “deal” which would modestly raise taxes on non-wealthy individuals in exchange for benefits cuts (which doesn’t sound like much of a deal to me.) But if it happens I can guarantee that Pete Peterson and the boys will be back in business the next day. They have been doing this for 30 years and they aren’t going to stop until they get what they want. After all, actuarial balance doesn’t mean anything to people who don’t believe that social security is separately funded in the first place.

Here’s old Pete in 1994:

“We will no longer be able to afford a system that equates the last third or more of one’s adult life with a publicly subsidized vacation.”

I think that most accurately reflects his real concern.

In January of 2009, before President Obama was inaugurated, I could see the handwriting on the wall when CNN turned two hours on two days to Pete Peterson and his crew. I wrote a long piece about it here and I’ll just repeat this one thing:

[T]hese people are going to cause trouble, which comes as no surprise to me. I’ve been writing about this for years. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in liberal rhetoric (and, yes, the dreaded “ideology.”) If you don’t bother to educate people counter to the myths and propaganda they hear from the right, they have nothing to hold onto except faith in the Democrats in the face of arguments that have been built layer by layer over many years. (And having faith in Democrats really take courage.) The fact that they refuse to do this doesn’t automatically spell failure for democratic policies, but it makes it many times harder to succeed.

They don’t even seem to intend to do tank the stimulus, just restrict it. What they are doing is setting the stage for entitlement cuts and a swift, premature pullback on government spending — thus extending the crisis. And if the Democrats are cowed by these people (they always are — they hate being called spendthrifts) there will be enough egomaniacs in the congress to hamstring the administration and force them to adopt these “common sense” methods of running the economy — which is precisely how we got into this problem in the first place.

I underestimated the administration’s zeal to join the crusade, but other than that, I think it’s pretty much gone down as expected. Not that I was particularly prescient. That’s how it’s been going down for a couple of decades and it was clear that nothing substantial had changed. The only thing different was the fact that we were experiencing an epic economic downturn which might have shaken the foundation enough to unmoor the political establishment from this destructive obsession. But it was not to be.

So now we have the Village elite gathering at Pete Peterson’s feet paying obeisance to his moneyed grandeur:

Politicians in Washington regularly say that major reform to entitlements — and by reform, they mean cuts — can only be accomplished with bipartisan consensus. “We have to hold hands and jump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday. To that end, and unlike the Koch brothers, Peterson spreads his money across the ideological spectrum. He has given millions to the liberal Center for American Progress, Economic Policy Institute and New America Foundation; the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute; the centrist Brookings Institution and Bipartisan Policy Center, and on and on.

Moreover, Peterson’s connections to the White House, evidenced by Geithner’s attendance at the current 2012 summit, aren’t hurt by his foundation’s multimillion-dollar contract with SKDKnickerbocker, which includes former top administration official Anita Dunn.

Republicans, too, have joined in Peterson’s crusade, including Boehner; Ryan, the architect of a federal budget plan that ends Medicare; and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), much discussed as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate. All three were in attendance at Tuesday’s conference.

Media luminaries such as George Stephanopoulos, Brokaw and Politico’s Harris were also scheduled to speak

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