Not a Crisis, a Better Deal
By Rich Lowry
Democrats go too far when they say, in effect, that "Bush lied about Iraq, and he is lying about Social Security." But the administration has been vulnerable to the charge of "false imminence" in both debates.
I like that: the Bush Doctrine of false imminence domain.
President Bush carefully avoided saying Iraq was an "imminent threat," but it was strongly implied, including in the word "pre-emption," which was constantly applied to the war.
But Bush learned--be careful what you imply: "Sometimes, words have consequences you don't intend them to mean." Well, I think he learned.
Countries pre-empt imminent attacks.... A war of prevention is waged to keep -- prevent -- a country from becoming an imminent threat, exactly the case in Iraq.
So, if I understand correctly, Bush failed to "pre-empt" 9-11, but he successfully "prevented" Iraq from...from what?
By the same token, a Social Security fix now would be undertaken to keep a problem…from becoming a full-blown crisis. It would be prevention, not pre-emption. This might seem a niggling distinction, but it matters.
Why does this niggling distinction matter? It matters because otherwise it screws up the marketing of Social Security privatization.
Already Bush's critics have been able to score easy points off his statement that on Social Security "the crisis is now."
And if there's anything politicians hate, it's easy points being scored against them.
There are two other problems with the imminent-crisis rhetoric. First, it emphasizes the pain -- the reductions in benefits or tax increases -- that will have to be part of the plan. Both are unpopular.
The trick here is the trick: There still will be economic pain, it just won't be discussed.
Second, it forces Bush into an area in which he has no mandate. In both his election victories, Bush talked about making private accounts part of Social Security, not fixing its solvency for all time with benefit reductions.
Well, Bush doesn't have a mandate for nation-building and worldwide eradication of tyranny, but this niggling distinction doesn't seem to have slowed him down any.
Bush must keep his priorities straight.... By focusing on the private accounts, Bush will stay on the strongest possible rhetorical ground.... Who cares if Congress in, say, 2020 has to come back to adjust the program's financing again?
Remember, above all else, the rhetoric of Social Security reform is more important than the actual math.
*Note: Lowry's terminology is outdated (maybe he didn't get the memo). The Bush Administration has undertaken a subtle rebranding of its product. Private accounts are now being called "personal accounts." Thus, we have the "personalization" of Social Security, rather like getting monogrammed bath towels.