Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Those quotation marks around "reform"

Suddenly, a new liberal meme on the Social Security debate -- at least new for the MSM -- really gets to the heart of the issue: The Bush/Republican effort to “save” Social Security is in reality an effort to destroy its political support, in much the same way that political support for welfare-type programs has withered in recent years, undermining the Democratic Party in the process. Private accounts do this by letting the well-off invest their money and leaving the poor to flounder – invest or not invest, they’re not going to do as well as people with a lot of money at their fingertips and more discretion on where to put it. The benefit cuts Bush proposed last week have a similar effect, making Social Security relatively more important for the poor while screwing the middle class.

As time grinds forward, these changes would create a growing division between the lower classes and the middle and upper, cleaving the class-transcending social compact at the heart of the Social Security system. Once cleaved, those at the lower end of the pay-scale will be seen as enjoying a form of welfare, and they will be the first targeted for cuts once our debts come home to roost. Social Security as we once knew it will be over, and the long-term economic security of the average person will be significantly weaker. A core principle of the Democratic Party would be betrayed and a central rationale for its existence undermined. But we'll still be salivating for more tax cuts. It’s all alarmingly simple and straightforward, and yet the suggestion that current “reform” attempts are in fact inimical to the very nature of the Social Security project are greeted with incredulity by the media poobahs in Washington.

The only problem with this as a Republican strategy, however, is that while it reflects some deep thinking about the alignments and coalitions that make for long-term partisan advantage, it makes the most sense in today’s political environment – i.e., an environment where it’s OK to slash Medicaid while facilitating massive tax cuts. This particular moment in history, one hopes, will not endure.