Dems Too Cute on Social Security

March 8, 2005

In a post yesterday I was discussing the Democrats’ curious strategy concerning Social Security. While they may gloat that they have put President Bush on the defensive on the issue, especially with respect to private accounts, they may end up with a Pyhrric victory, only to be outflanked in the long term by President Bush. That’s because the only position they’re known for on Social Security now is obstruction. What a surprise. Well, this morning, an article in the Washington Post adds more credence to this theory that the Dems may be overplaying their hand.

Two Clinton strategists, Stan Greenberg and James Carville,are raising questions about the Dems’ strategy on Social Security. From the Post:

The party’s situation was posed most provocatively by two veteran Democratic strategists, Stan Greenberg and James Carville. In a memo issued last week, the two wrote: “We ask progressives to consider, why have the Republicans not crashed and burned?”

“Why has the public not taken out their anger on the congressional Republicans and the president?” they added. “We think the answer lies with voters’ deeper feelings about the Democrats who appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose.”

What worries some Democrats about the debate over Social Security is that Bush stands for something and they do not, other than opposition to the creation of private accounts. So far, party leaders believe that posture has served them well. But some Democrats fear that Bush, by having pushed for changes and by appealing to younger voters with his proposal for the accounts, will score a political victory even if he does not get the main element of his plan.

Yes, it’s certainly true. Bush stands for something and they don’t, other than opposing him. But note the endless politicization of the issue. To Greenberg, Carville, and the Post writers, the issue is not whether the system is reformed, but who scores political points in the process. They seem to imply that Bush will be happy not getting the private accounts, so long as he can shame Democrats in the process.

They don’t know President Bush very well. He is intent on accomplishing the reform he set his sights on. Unlike the Democrats/liberals, who are obviously projecting their mentality on to him, his sole goal in life is not to defeat the opposition, but to get things done — the things he wants done, that is.

Increasingly, analysts on both sides are depicting this Social Security battle as one between the generations. I heard Walter Williams yesterday sitting in for Rush, saying that the “old geezers” were opposed to the privatization and the young would be for it. The problem, though, he said, is that young people don’t vote in nearly the numbers as old people.

That may be true, but there are two things that could change this dynamic. One is that Republicans might just be able to convince the “old geezers” that their guaranteed payments are not in jeopardy. I certainly believe that to be the case. The other is that they do, presumably, have children and grandchildren, and they do presumably care about the future of the nation. I’m not going to buy into the cynicism that says they don’t care. It’s not that they only care about themselves, it’s that the White House has yet to make the case that the system is in sufficient trouble to require immediate action.

The White House has yet to convince the uninformed (and even many of the fairly informed) how private accounts will not defeat their own purpose by expanding the national debt way beyond any savings they would achieve to the system in the long run. I’ve been complaining about this, but I’ll say it again. This isn’t just a rally getting our side out on a tour to cheer lead for the program. It is going to require a national tutorial that lays it out in simple terms and refutes, once and for all, the propaganda issuing from the obstructionist Democrats. I think it’s high time the talking points were refined on this issue. We need a GOP Social Security Reform for Dummies. Then we should go sell it. In that order, and not the other way around.