The Post tomorrow says this about the president’s warning to Democrats …
Meanwhile yesterday, Bush warned that Democratic lawmakers may suffer politically if they continue to oppose his plan without offering alternatives. Americans are beginning to agree that Social Security needs revisions to safeguard its long-term stability, he said, adding: “In my judgment, ultimately, I think politicians need to be worried about not being a part of the solution.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is one thing you can say for this president, as indeed you can for most presidents, though not to the same degree: With every major <$Ad$>policy he has pushed, whatever his level of belief in the substance of the legislation, he has done so with an eye to maximizing the political return at the next election.
Every single time: tax cuts, Iraq, Homeland Security, etc. Every single time.
So clearly if the president really believed that Democrats would be hurt politically if they got left off the phase-out bandwagon, he’d be pushing for a vote now, thus trying to put the Democrats at a maximum disadvantage in 18 months. But he isn’t, or rather can’t, because his Republicans are terrified of moving without the Democrats.
So on its face, what the president is saying is a crock.
But let’s look at the assumption, or rather the spin, underlying it.
Increasingly, in recent days, the president and his surrogates have been arguing that while broad-based support for private accounts has yet to materialize, there is a growing public belief in the need for rapid and fundamental reform. And that, they reason, puts them in a position to win the debate because if the public believes major changes are necessary, and soon, they’re the ones with the major reform on the table.
In essence, the president is arguing that while he has yet to win the argument, he and the White House are winning the predicate to the argument.
Only, all the polls say it’s just the opposite.
Consider a few examples.
The recent CNN/USAToday poll found that the percentage of Americans who believe that major changes are needed “in the next year or two” was 38%. A month earlier that number was 49%.
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released a couple weeks ago showed that over the previous two months number of Americans who believe in “making some adjustments [to Social Security] but leaving the Social Security system basically as is” went from 39% in December, to 44% in January, to 50% in mid-February.
It’s not always easy in the various polls to locate questions that go specifically to this issue. And it is further complicated by the fact that in the Times poll, for instance, as well as in some of the others, many of the questions are asked for the first time or for the first time in many years. So you can’t get a sense of change over time.
What the polls do show is a rapidly increasingly awareness of the debate itself, which makes sense given the amount of news coverage. But as the recent Pew poll shows awareness of the debate correlates strongly with opposition.
In other words, the more folks know about the president’s plan, the less they like it.
The simple truth is that the president isn’t just losing the debate on private accounts and phase-out. He’s also losing it on the underlying question of whether or not fundemental changes are necessary and whether the need for change is urgent.