January 09, 2005

Virtues of the Status Quo

Mark Schmitt thinks that Bush actually has two goals in the great Social Security phase-out scheme. First, of course, is to raze the program to the ground. The second, though, is to paint the Democrats as hidebound defenders of the status quo, and the Republicans as the party of bright and shining reform. So as something of a tactical prescription, he recommends that Democrats don't get too knee-jerk on the opposition front, or at least try to worry about winning that second battle.

Fair enough, though it doesn't seem like that big a problem for Democrats to defend Social Security. It's a hugely popular program, especially once people realize there's no crisis, and even kids my age will likely draw full promised benefits when we retire. So there are all sorts of lines to use here: "Yes, there are plenty of things in the status quo that are worth keeping, like clean air, or the First Amendment, or universal suffrage, because they all work well."

There are other diversionary tactics here too. Contrary to David Brooks' fascinating lurch into divination, most of us don't oppose private accounts because we're afraid they'll "create more Republicans." No, we oppose the plan because right now we need to focus on looming budget and Medicare crises, so borrowing trillions to destroy what is essentially the most financially stable program in the entire federal government seems stupid and dangerous. To perpetuate a favorite metaphor: if your car's on fire, your brake lines are slashed, your engine's making weird creaking noises, and your back wheel needs a little air, it's pretty easy to set priorities. Yes, you'll be a defending the status quo on that back tire, but so it goes.

Correction: Oops! Never mind. When I say "even kids my age will likely draw full promised benefits when we retire", I'm guilty of hedging. Scratch the "likely." Most 18-year-olds today were born in 1986. They will retire, at the latest, in 2053 at the age of 67. According to the CBO, the program will still be dishing out full benefits by then.
-- Brad Plumer 2:56 PM || ||