How embarrassing! Who thought the Bush Social Security Commission would have such a pitiful demise? The whole point of the Commission -- which, improbably enough, had libs jittery and wingers giddy -- was to send up a privatization proposal which would have the wind in its sails, define reform as privatization, and perhaps even arrest Pat Moynihan's precipitous slide into mendacity, hackdom and irrelevance.
Now the last of these three objectives was obviously a pipe dream. Number two was a tough proposition. But who would have thought they wouldn't even be able to manage number one? I mean, the whole cliche about presidential commissions is that their reports sit on library shelves collecting dust. Releasing not a report or a proposal but three different vague policy recommendations really charts new territory on the barren wasteland of commission fecklessness. No wonder privatizers in the media feel like they've been had.
The denouement is pitiful but the reality behind it is instructive. For years, privatization opponents have insisted that when it came down to brass tacks, there was no way to hash out a partial privatization plan that actually worked. That is, it was impossible if you defined 'working' as a) insuring long-term solvency for the program, b) not requiring massive benefit cuts, c) not requiring sizeable tax increases, and d) not being based on bogus accounting.
What happened is that when the Commission tried to do it they discovered that this was pretty much true.
This much could have, and should have, been predicted. What wasn't obvious was that the Commission would have all the political agility and polish of a drunk, blind mouse trying to find its way out of a paper bag (for a good run-down of the Commission's implosion see this article by Nick Confessore).
Millions of dollars were supposed to raised by the administration's allies for a privatization media blitz. But they forgot about it or lost interest. And now all the Republicans who actually have to run in elections are terrified that they're going to get creamed with the issue come 2002.
A group called Campaign for America's Future put together an operation which mau-maued the Commission from coast to coast, repeatedly harassing them and calling them out for how the Commission was stacked, how it tried to operate in closed meetings contrary to law, etc. etc. etc. The CAF folks were doing the Lord's work, as far as I'm concerned. But the hapless commissioners gave them a lot to work with, making one misstep after another, letting themselves get drawn into hopeless debates and generally being made fools of.
It's hard not to find examples. The just-released Draft Final Report (Adobe Acrobat Required) is plastered with warnings that say "Do Not Quote Without Permission." What exactly that is supposed to mean in a public document uploaded on a government website I'm not really sure. Isn't it the online, policy wonk equivalent of making a "Kick Me" poster, taping it to your butt, and taking a nice leisurely walk through Queens and the Bronx?