If you were a Republican congressperson terrified of getting clobbered over Bush's "personal accounts" proposal for Social Security, what would be your biggest wish? Not that Bush fight for the idea, or that he not fight for the idea. Your wish would be that whatever Bush does, the fight be fought quickly, within a few months--leaving plenty of time to recover before the 2006 mid-term election.On one level, the idea that Bush wants to "lose quickly, lose with honor" seems dubious. Right now is probably the last, best time for Republicans to phase out Social Security for a long while. New Trustees' reports are going to emerge fairly soon pushing the doomsday date outwards—thanks to high economic growth over the past few years. (To give just one example: The Trustee's "low-cost projections," in which the Trust Fund would stay stuffed until 2080 and beyond, predicted 2.8 percent productivity growth in '04. In fact we got a healthy 4.1, though it fell of late. Um, real wages actually fell in 2004, which is not good news, but, um, presumably that trend's not sustainable forever.)
That is why the reports that Bush is pushing for an ambitiously expedited consideration of his proposal aren't necessarily a sign of strength, or of a cunning high-pressure Rovian strategy for victory. They may be a strategy to lose quickly, with minimal harm done to the Republican majority. ... And maybe this get-it-over-with realism, not grandiose ambition, explains Bush's decision to pursue Social Security revision before tax revision.