As acerbic comedian Lewis Black famously noted, we are faced today with two dominant forces in politics: the “party of bad ideas” and the “party of no ideas.” Competition between the two – especially with regard to the recent Social Security debate – has not brought out the best in each, but rather the worst. As a result, our nation’s future is in peril.
Throughout the Bush administration, the Republican Party has proudly taken up the mantle as the party of bad ideas. As I noted in a previous column, the knock on Bush isn’t so much that his initiatives are ill-conceived; it is that the mechanics behind those initiatives are disturbingly faulty.
Social Security reform is no exception to this downward trend of futility. It is true that Social Security will soon be facing a funding crisis. It is also true that, in the long run, the American people are probably better off managing their own money in private accounts.
These two truths, however, are no reason to jump for joy over the Bush proposal. As his opponents have noted, the short-term cost of transitioning to these accounts would be devastating.
Inasmuch as we are already saddled with enormous deficits, the timing could not have been worse.
Furthermore, there are some legitimate concerns about the long-term solvency of the Bush plan.
Given that our economy swings like a pendulum and our stock market has been known to nosedive, many Americans are predictably hesitant to let go of their pecious Social Security safety blanket.
Theoretically, these gaping holes in the Bush policy should leave the Democrats in a good position to come through with a plan of their own. True to its status as the party of no ideas, however, the Democrats have been unwilling or unable to step up.
Their failure to take action is made even more alarming by historical precedent. Contrast the Social Security crises to the welfare headaches of yesteryear.
Republicans had long been looking to axe the program, but centrist Democrats got out ahead of them. They made substantial cuts and changes without scrapping the program entirely and were able to take the bulk of the credit.
It was a risky move given the party’s big-government, handout-friendly base, but the Democratic Leadership Council took a gamble and it paid off.
Unfortunately, Democrats seem unwilling to take such a gamble again.
Whereas Vice President Cheney has invited a bipartisan solution, Democratic leaders are refusing to even negotiate unless privatization is abandoned.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has made it clear no dialogue will take place unless the president backs off his threat to “kill” Social Security.
Perhaps this is an indication that the Democratic Party truly has drifted hopelessly leftward.
After all, a decade ago many of the privatization plans came from Democrats themselves. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) championed tax-deferred KidSave accounts, an idea which had broad bipartisan support.
Later in his second term, President Clinton emerged as an advocate for flawed-but-noble Universal Savings Accounts.
Even now, a select few Democrats – such as Gov. Ed Rendell (Penn.) – have broken with party ranks to endorse the Bush plan.
If Democrats had an ounce of intelligence, they would be endorsing it in droves. Agreeing to the idea in principle would bring them into the debate. The specifics could then be mulled over until a compromise is reached.
Furthermore, participation would do a lot to remove the “obstructionist” label with which Republicans have been quick to stick them.
Given that Republicans have the upper hand in Congress, it is not likely that the Bush plan will see much alteration. If passed, we will be stuck with it, costs and all. And yet, a flawed plan is still preferable to no plan at all.
Unless the Democrats come to their senses, one of two things is going to happen. Either the Republicans will get the plan passed over their objections and their minority status will be even further diminished or they will succeeded in blocking it, to the detriment of America.
The “me-first” partisanship and shortsighted buffoonery that Democrats have embraced as their credo might give entertainers like Black great material, but the only thing it is likely to give the rest of us is headaches 20 years from now when Social Security benefits run out.