There's an article in The Hill today that you should read. It's about a talk Bob Rubin, Clinton's Treasury Secretary, gave to the House Democratic caucus yesterday. The headline topic was Social Security. And his message was unequivocal: Democrats would be fools to fall into the trap of putting forward their own concrete plan on Social Security under current circumstances.
In discussing this question, one must always come back to the simple fact that the Democrats especially shouldn't come up with a concrete plan when the president himself still hasn't put one forward.
But setting that significant matter aside, Rubin is unquestionably right. And it's important for Democrats to hear this from someone like Rubin whose stature within Democratic ranks is unique.
I must admit that I've had moments of wavering on this basic issue. But Rubin strikes on exactly the point that has always brought me back to the same conclusion that Dems shouldn't get sucked in on this one.
Of course, there's a narrowly political argument. And that's important. But it's not the most important reason. The real key is that the playing field in Washington today is terribly skewed. The Republicans have the White House and both chambers of Congress. And they've demonstrated an ability to coordinate those three institutions to what is an almost unprecedented degree (this is the issue of parliamentarization I've referred to before.) In such a setting, any process of negotiation would inevitably lead to a bad result (both politically and substantively) because Republicans exert so much control over the process of negotiation itself. And that would be so because the current Republican party is against Social Security itself. And no negotiation or process of compromise controlled by such a party could, by definition I think, yield a result which was favorable to Social Security.
That has to be the case as long as Republicans are still sticking to their principles of private accounts and sharp benefit cuts for the middle class. And those are their principles -- quite explicitly, in fact
Add to this the fact that the president is clocking in at under 30% support on Social Security and most Americans now understand that he wants to dismantle the program and the whole thing really becomes a no-brainer.
In fact, Dems should really start making the point now that they are the ones who stopped President Bush from phasing out Social Security this year.
Be loud, be proud.