Monday, April 25, 2005

Too late for Social Security reform?

Fred Barnes thinks the Bush administration should throw in the towel:

President Bush needs an exit strategy on Social Security. With luck, he may never have to use it. There's still a chance a sweeping reform bill will pass this year. But despite Bush's valiant efforts to sell Congress and the nation on the idea of modernizing Social Security, the prospects are dim. History will surely vindicate Bush for trying to solve a serious national problem before it becomes a staggering mess. What's required now, however, is that he be ready to accept defeat in a manner that saves Republicans from losses in the 2006 election and allows him to pursue the rest of his agenda effectively.
Well, there’s still a chance that Dubya can turn things around perhaps by shifting the argument from solvency to financial freedom. But, whatever may occur, I believe that Republicans will be rewarded – not punished – for taking on the issue of Social Security’s long-term solvency. It would be wrong to think about the midterm elections when there is a strong case for responsible reform.


Anonymous said...

A pretty little hope. But when Bush has got all that "political capital to spend," and when the realpolitik landscape has been defined by his own administration as "dominate or be devoured"? Sorry, but there are no do-overs.

The night of the election, Bush was standing triumphant, with Cheney making unveiled threats by his side. Five months later, he's backing down on Social Security, fighting to get a crony rubberstamped to the U.N., begging his Saudi buddies to knock a few dimes off the gas pumps, having his press secretary say "Tom DeWho?", and watching the backroom negotiations to find out how many stalled judge nominations he might get through. These are not the strides of a colossus. The Greeks had a word for this pattern of events: hubris. And if Bush absorbs another half a year of it, the ancient Greek word for "bend over" might apply just as well.

"History will surely vindicate" George W. Bush's gloriously vague pro-broker Social Security, er, "plan" just as it will celebrate William J. Clinton's hamfisted attempt to remake the health care system. They say history is written by the victors; those seeking "exit strategies" need not apply.

If you want to convince yourself that Bush is a moral man who's "restored honor to the Oval Office," rock on, knock yourself out. But don't start insisting every political development is yet another major plus for the Republicans. That way lies madness. It's like saying, "Oh, goody, Shaq's hurt! Now the Miami Heat can start moving the ball around more!"

Eric said...

Nice try. If Bush has been thwarted in advancing his goals, it’s only because of the Democrats who have decided that the lesson of the previous three losing elections is that they haven’t been obstructionist enough. Your “can’t get anything done” taunt is like Nelson Muntz saying “why are you hitting yourself?”

When Clinton was in office, he tried to restructure one-seventh of the U.S. economy into a Canadian-style single payer system; Americans rightly balked. President Bush, who was in Texas today with Tom DeLay (try to keep up on the news, buddy) , is trying to address something that everybody knows is a problem. But what if he fails? In 2017, when the Social Security fund starts cashing in government bonds, the U.S. government will either have to raise taxes or cut spending to meet that debt. Year one: there goes Head Start! Year two: goodbye Pell Grants! Year three: so long Department of Education! And so on. In 2041 when the Fund is depleted, there are automatic Social Security cuts of 26%.

Do you think Americans – especially the Gen X’ers today – will look back then and say: “Thank God we defeated Dubya’s Social Security reform?”

I’ll hold on to your other “defeats” and revisit them as events warrant (e.g. when John Bolton is U.N. ambassador). See you then.

Anonymous said...

Bush is appearing with DeLay as damage control; you know that.

Bush's plan on Social Security is a body of vapor and a wink to the Lehman Brothers; you know that.

Assuming Bolton gets the UN job, it's still an incredible waste of time and goodwill and resources from a President who supposedly had amassed all that "political capital"; you know that.

Oppositions oppose; you know that, but you sorely wish it were 2002 again. It's hard to paint Bush's continuing dominance as unassailable when it keeps on getting assailed. "Obstructionist"... "do-nothing"... "stand pat"... I could probably find an 18th-century insult if I looked at 1789-1800 hard enough. Is this devastating assessment of the troublesome minority party anything that James Madison or Teddy Roosevelt didn't have to offer?

And when did it become solid argumentation for you to be torching the poor, doomed Department of Education, not 2 hours after quoting William Voegeli taking on the Nation's faux-draconian Social Security hypotheses? Not to mention that such dire snuffings of Pell Grants and Head Start would have been preceded by guys like Bush draining the Social Security reserve fund, then bravely "trying to address something that everybody knows is a problem." But as your powerful political example Nelson Muntz would say, "Shoplifting is a victimless crime."

And since you have such faith in the wisdom of orchestrated American balking, enjoy the remainder of the Social Security "debate." Americans don't mind Bush's lying or ineptitude or corporate suckling as they relate to Iraq, because it's not their water supply getting wrecked. They're not so sure they'd like that same skillset applied directly to their retirement money.

Nothing (too) personal against your home team. America never trusted Clinton much either, and he paid for it in his second term. And it's not like lame-duck Presidents never hit a home run. But if you think 2005 has thus far set the stage for another classic run of GOP domestic triumphs, you're overloaded with the kind of bottomless optimism I can only envy.

Eric said...

You know, Des, there’s an old lawyer saw about “If you can’t argue the law, argue the facts. If you can’t argue the facts, argue the law. And if you can’t do either, pound the table.” And maybe it’s the engineer in me - but it seems to me that when you launch into your rococo circumlocutions on [fill in the blank], you’re really just trying to cover up. In the classic style of Paul Krugman, I’ve never seen you cite a statistic or a number to back up your claims, which is understandable, since that would represent some kind of immutable claim. Instead it’s snipe, conflate, quote, cut, quip and condescend.

“Oh-ho” I’m sure you’re thinking “you’re guilty too!” Yeah, when you lay it all out on the #182 most popular blog, there’s a lot of slop. Why don’t you try it? Step up to the plate and put your thoughts online – join the battle instead of waving your hands frantically twice a week trying to get a rise out of me. If you believe that a private conversation by a Texas governor is equivalent to a public speech by the chairman of the Democratic party, well by all means lay out your argument.

I’m not sure where to start in rebuttal to this latest, um, collection of words. But I’ll say two things: 1.) you’re out of your league when it comes to Social Security. Make all the snide comments you want – the crowd will love it - but when it comes to substantive debate, I’ll whack you like an arcade mole. 2.) You’re also a piker on Simpsons quotes. The punchline is “Shoplifting is a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark.”

Your move, funny man.

Anonymous said...

No, the punchline is the part about the shoplifting. The part about punching someone in the dark is, technically speaking, a tagline (or a "topper"). I occasionally write, "um, collections of words" that employ them.

Which is why I must decline your kind offer of starting a rival blog; I don't even have a webpage and have no future plans to make one. It just doesn't fit my needs. Would you engineer for free?

Meanwhile, a person who annually reposts his opinion that baseball's national popularity is in a death spiral, and who is then annually disabused of that notion by the attendance and ratings figures I ship him, and who THEN repeats the identical claim a year later.... that person should be wary of saying I never cite statistics. As it regards my main counterpoint-- that George W. Bush's winning streak has cooled since December-- what is this mathematical backup that you want of me? A temperature? Okay, his streak has cooled 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Q.E.D. And if I come across a graph that colorcodes the number of times Harry Truman blasted his "do-nothing Congress" compared to the amount that the cable news yakkers repeat the phrases "Democratic obstructionists" or "activist judges," I'll be sure to pass it along.

As you know, there is much on your blog that isn't my ideological cup of tea. But I only snipe, conflate, condescend and McGillicuddy when inspired by a comment like "But, whatever may occur, I believe that Republicans will be rewarded – not punished – for taking on the issue of Social Security’s long-term solvency." Then, a sentence later, you're saying "it would be wrong to think about the midterm elections" when it comes to addressing Social Security. A few weeks back, you were looking forward to possibly historic 6th-year Congressional gains for Bush. But "whatever may occur," it's all good. If Bush reforms Social Security, it's a GOP pickup. If he cuts and runs, it's a GOP pickup. Anything in between, it's a GOP pickup. And if something should inexplicably go wrong, history will vindicate the GOP anyway. Does any of this strike you as begging the question?

I must say that you're throwing out some tempting beef to get me to respond, including your apparent belief that podium rhetoric is more revelatory about a person's character than private remarks. Or that Bush & Rove expending substantial resources on the Bolton nomination, including the internecine relations within one's own party that have only built this GOP run, will all be worth it when Bolton squeaks in. Or that I'm a more enticing arcade mole to you than George W. Bush, despite the fact that his and my proposals for reforming Social Security are roughly equal in specificity.

In any event, your unshakable faith that 2005 is going like gangbusters for the good guys will surely wound you in the end more than any rococo circumlocution I'm capable of. But should darkness befall the land, do remember: your blog is 181 places higher on MY list... and in my heart.