I've always thought of Jack Kemp as sort of a sad figure. As I wrote a few years ago, "Most Republicans know that enterprise zones and other nostrums presented as alternatives to "failed" liberal social policy are window dressing. Kemp's problem is that he takes the window dressing seriously, but none of his GOP colleagues have the heart to tell him."
Now, he's telling the president to put privatization to a party-line vote. Let the Democrats block it. And then take it to the voters in 2006 ...
If the alternative is tax increases, cutting benefits or making people work longer, the country would be much better off if the Democrats filibuster the president's personal-accounts proposal to death this year than if he gives in to their pigheadedness and takes personal accounts off the table. Let the Democrats obstruct passage of personal accounts, if they have the courage, and then let's go to the American people on the matter in the 2006 elections. That's the way democracy works, and we know that whatever the people decide will be right.
This is part of what I mean by no one having the heart to tell him. The alternative is cutting benefits? Private accounts equal cutting benefits. Any fool realizes that. No less a bamboozler than Rep. Allen Boyd says in his own defense today that "[p]ersonal accounts are a way to let <$Ad$> these workers recoup those [benefit cuts] and likely earn even more for retirement than they could under today's system."
In other words, private accounts are a sort of generational consolation prize for having the social compact broken during your lifetime. Heck, if you're lucky, you might even make it all back.
But on the main point, Kemp is right. Take it to the voters. Yes, I think Republicans will regret it. But you can never really know how an election is going to come off or what the results will be. We should take this to voters because that is what Democracy is about. And as much as the president likes to pretend otherwise, this issue never got a serious airing in 2004. This is an issue, if there ever was one, on which the Democrats should have the courage of their convictions.
Two or three months ago, when Democrats set about trying to thwart the president's plan, there was little assurance they'd be successful. As much as the aim was to win, it was to lose well rather than lose badly -- divided, double-crossed and having caved on principle -- if losing it had to be.
With apologies, let me refer back to what I wrote on December 20th ...
The GOP has the White House and solid majorities in both chambers. If they can hold their troops together, they can write the bill, pass it, and sign it into law before anyone gets another chance at the ballot box. But, as important as winning is in this case (and I'm a good deal more optimistic than many of my friends and colleagues seem to be), winning isn't everything.
If Democrats have to lose this, they must be sure to lose well.
Do they spin and shuffle and whine and sputter on about how bad the whole thing is? Or do they make this into a clear choice -- where Democrats support Social Security for a clear set of reasons rooted in values and policy, and Republicans oppose it?
If the lies about the program's unviability are volubly refuted, the party division made clear, and the reasons why Social Security is good for America are ably argued, then let the chips fall where they may. But if it's all tactics, the outmoded bag of tricks and risk-aversion, playing at the margins and wringing of hands, that will truly be unforgivable.
The same goes for 2006. Don't fret. Take it to the people.