Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Battle For Social Security

In the upcoming battle over Social Security "reform" Democrats need to be united in their opposition to the Republican plan to gut the signature program of Democratic politics. But we also need to deal with the inevitable claims that such opposition is simply a knee-jerk opposition to reform. We can't do it by simply denying it nor can we do it by offering counter reform proposals. The first will just lead to a childish "are-to/are-not" debate while the latter will simply give weight to the underlying argument of the critics of Social Security. They want people to believe that Social Security needs reforming. If Democrats offer a counter-proposal then they have already ceded 3/4 of the battlefield to the Republicans.

We must repeat again and again and again the following mantra: "Social Security is the most successful government program ever instituted and is as healthy as it has ever been". Then challenge the nay Sayers to prove otherwise.

DO NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT SOCIAL SECURITY NEEDS TO BE FIXED!

Challenge that assumption in any form it is presented.

If something needs to be fixed then that means that it is broken. Social Security is not broken. It has the most stable funding base of any government program in existence (even defense appropriations have to be approved from year to year). It is as solvent today as it was the day it was created.

We need to be clear on this. Democrats are not opposed to reform when reform is needed. In the case of Social Security, it is not needed.

Once you adopt this as your baseline then the rest of the argument will follow, including the fact that the proponents of reform are being consistently disingenuous (i.e., lying) about the need for fundamental change.

NOTE: Avoid getting into a debate about the motives of the reformers. Doing so will simply divert the debate away from the essential point that "Social Security is the most successful government ever instituted and is as healthy as it has ever been."

This is absolutely essential. Technically, we don't have the votes to stop them gutting Social Security if they want to. But if they have to do it in an entirely non-partisan fashion then it will be a lot harder for them to get some of the more moderate Republicans on board. Just as an example, the Save Social Security blog (an essential resource in this fight) has the Republican Senator Gordon Smith from my own state of Oregon listed as being on the fence ("Recognizes the need for some kind of reform, but has not decided on either the measure or the depth of the fix required"). That's a big clue right there that the Republicans are not united behind Bush on the need for fundamental Social Security reform.

If the Democrats can stay united on this they can hang this albatross around the Republicans and make them pay for it big time (think the hurt Democrats went through in '94 after the Clinton Health Care plan failed).

If the Democrats can stay united they might even be able to break the Republican coalition and hand Bush a defeat on the signature issue of his second term (so much for that "political capital" eh?)

But this can happen only if Democrats do not give the Republicans a bi-partisan lifeline. This is why any Democrat who is even considering cooperating should hear the message loud and clear that they will suffer dearly if they go along.

Democratic leaders must learn to fear their own constituency more than the squawking of the Republican right. But this will require that we are united in our efforts to keep the Democrat leaders united.

This is the line in the sand folks.

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