Thursday, January 13, 2005

Next Stop Social Security, Please Fasten Your Seatbelts

Memorial of St. Hilary

Inauguration Day is just a week away now, and the "thinly-veiled indignation" is on the rise for the Social Security Reform "debate." Now that the Administration's blitz has started, it'll be good 'n' intense soon.

Here's the mushroom harvest:

The Note has been tracking the goings on for the last couple of weeks and has observed:
One news cycle past and there are three things we can say about the current debate on the President's "plan" to remake Social Security:
  1. The commentariat on the left is working overdrive on the "there is no crisis" theme.
  2. It is increasingly easy to find Republicans on background (and deeper) who express skepticism about the game and the candle.
  3. And/but no one should misunderestimate the vast sales job that is about to take place.

The objections from the President's opponents began reasonably enough, with the consistent exception of Paul Krugman. However, the cracks are now beginning to show, as evidenced by Harold Meyerson's recent piece ("President of Fabricated Crises," Washington Post, 1/12/05, p. A21):

... When historians look back at the Bush presidency, they're more likely to note that what sets Bush apart is not the crises he managed, but the crises he fabricated. The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. To attain goals he had set for himself before he took office... he concocted crises where there were none.

And there's more:

With crisis concoction as its central task... this presidency, more than any I can think of, has relied on the classic tools of propaganda... We've had plenty of presidents, Richard Nixon most notoriously, who divided the media into friendly and enemy camps. I can't think of one, however, so fundamentally invested in the spread of disinformation--and so fundamentally indifferent in the spread of disinformation--as Bush.

I hope that this doesn't mark the beginning of the end of real argument on this. As for how to achieve something meaningful, David Brooks ("Let Congress Lead," NY Times, 1/8/05) is on to something:

The president's role - at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after - will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn't need to say what the legislation should look like. That's too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it's values... This is a time to trust the legislative process. Social Security has a better chance of passage if Congress leads.

Should we end up with a pair of monologues passing in the night, rather than the debate that ought to happen, ultimately it will be because of the conflict of first principles between a New Deal sacred cow and the ownership society. What's interesting is that the sacred cow didn't use to be a cow at all, i.e., Social Security in the beginning was a fairly conservative notion, particularly by today's standards, but has long since been co-opted and corrupted. Here's to hoping we can fire up the grill of real reform.

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