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Monday, March 14, 2005

Nothing new


Now Democrats risk making the same mistake on Social Security. They are so anxious to denounce private accounts that they fail to acknowledge the most basic point: Social Security has a serious deficit. The Post reported Friday that nearly every Democratic senator refuses even to contemplate the Bush proposals. But the Democrats have no proposal of their own. They sound negative and irresponsible. This is a mistake, first, because it's bad for the country. Social Security's deficit does need to be fixed, and the fix will be harder if we miss the current opportunity. Whatever one thinks of President Bush's personal accounts, he's out there touring the country, trying to open people's minds to the necessity of reform; meanwhile, Republican members of Congress are sticking their necks out with detailed overhaul proposals. If this moment is squandered, it may be years before any politician musters the courage to tackle Social Security.
I think this problem is true in regards to Social Security and a lot of other issues as well. For complex reasons, the Democratic Party has become mostly a coalition of various interest groups (the Republican party in contrest is mostly coalition of relatively compatible ideologies.) As a result, they have become very invested in maintaining specific programs rather than solving specific problems. A good example of this is the school voucher idea, which teachers unions, and thus Democrats, reflexively oppose. Debates on affirmative action and environmental issues have also mired into a similar dynamic. This has turned the Democratic Party into the party of the 'status quo' (which is ironic as they are the ones who most often say there are serious problems with America.) The bold ideas are all coming out of the Republican party these days and the Democrats only alternative is obstructionism and arguing why everything is too risky, too dangerous to try. That does not seem to me to be a winning methodology. Even the most signifigant debate of our time, how to transform our foreign policy after 9/11 has followed this pattern, with George Bush adopting the ambitious and risky neo-con strategy of promoting democracy and wiping out tyranny while the Democratic opposition either had nothing to say or simply that we should continue the tried and true diplomacy and goals of the 1990s. I for one think this is hugely important. While I certainly tend to agree with 'Conservative' philosophy on most issues, I certainly don't want all the new ideas to come from a single ideological viewpoint. Liberal/Progressive value systems have greatly contributed in the past to what America is today and I think they have an important place in charting a new course to the future. Sadly though, too many of the holders of these value systems are only focused on the past. John Fund writes in today's Wall Street Journal about what FDR said and did about Social Security 70 years ago. His final paragraphs are very relevant to what I am talking about:
No one really knows how FDR would have thought about fixing Social Security today, 70 years after he brought it into existence and 60 years after his death. That's because Roosevelt was anything but an ideologue. The historian Eric Goldman wrote of FDR that "he trusted no system except the system of endless experimentation." FDR himself said in a speech at Oglethorpe University that "this country needs . . . bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." I suspect that, whatever his views might be on personal accounts today, FDR would have little use for liberals who attack them without any suggestions of their own on how to "try something."


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