November 22, 2004

Framing Social Security

According to this poll, the vast majority of voters support Social Security privatization—provided they can get it without increasing the deficit or cutting benefits. Of course, that's almost certainly what's going to happen. On the other hand, President Bush is going to sell whatever scheme he comes up with as a free lunch. The solution? Before they start putting forward proposals of their own, I advise the Democrats to start emphasizing every second of the day that Social Security reform is going to be a painful process that involves some sacrifices and difficult choices. Otherwise, Bush is going to kill them by proposing a scheme based on shady accounting and gimmicks. Unless the public knows that there's no free lunch, the Bush plan will work.

Is advocating sacrifice politically risky? Sure. But then again, maybe not. A March CBS/NYT poll found that 86 percent of voters understand that the deficit is at least a "somewhat serious issue." And in an AP/IPSOS post-election poll, voters preferred deficit reduction over further tax cuts by a two-to-one margin. Voters can handle the brutal truth, it seems. And getting it out there is the only way Democrats can have even a semi-honest Social Security debate.
-- Brad Plumer 6:30 PM || ||