Saturday, May 07, 2005

Judgment is the issue

Jerome Armstrong comments on Bill Clinton's suggestion that it is time for Democrats to put forward a plan for Social Security:

Clinton will be dead and gone before Social Security needs to be changed, but he's decided that he's had enough of seeing Bush get his ass kicked by Democrats over the issue of Social Security. Did the Republicans come up with a plan when the Clintons tried to reform Healthcare?  No, and that's why Bill Clinton got the Democratic Congressional leadership's head handed to him after the '94 midterm election. Now though, Clinton is supplying Republican talking points:

Former President Bill Clinton: "[I] Think [Democrats] Need To Come Up With A Plan Of Their Own." (ABC's "Saturday Good Morning America," 5/7/05, Via ABC News' "The Note," 5/5/05)

President Clinton: "I Think The Democrats Should Say What They Are For On Social Security In The Next Couple Weeks ... The Democrats Should Have A Plan And They Should Talk To The President And The Congressional Republicans About It." (ABC's "Saturday Good Morning America," 5/7/05, Via ABC News' "The Note," 5/5/05)

Let me guess, Hillary has a plan; let me guess, it raises taxes; let me guess, the Clinton's are going to find a way for themselves to shine while the Democratic Party gets beat again.

The Democratic Plan is already in action-- it's called Social Security.

The Democrat's problem has been that they have been all to willing to lend the Republicans a helping hand just when they are most in trouble. They don't have the killer instinct when it comes to taking advantage of the blunders of the opposition. Does this mean that they are wimps? No, it just means that they, generally, think beyond the simple calculus of political advantage over the opposition and factor into it the greater needs of society (i.e., they are the more responsible of the two parties). Clinton's suggestion that Democrats should have a plan for Social Security is not, in itself, a bad thing. Democrats should have plans for all the major issues of the day.

So what is the problem with Clinton's suggestion? Is it simply, as Jerome suggests, that Clinton is trying to use the situation to the advantage of his wife at the expense of wider Democratic goals? I prefer to leave questions of motivation out of this. Clinton may honestly believe that it is to the Democrats advantage to counter Bush's privatization plans with plans of their own. Unfortunately, like so many short-sighted Democrats of recent years, Clinton doesn't appear to understand that just offering a counter-plan provides justification to the Republican initiative.

And that, I think, is where Democrats get into trouble. It's not that Social Security doesn't have problems that need addressing. It's that Democrats allow the Republicans to frame the terms of the debate and to set the agenda of what will be debated.

Regardless of whether Democrats take up Clinton's suggestion or not, they will still give the appearance of being purely reactionary in their public policy. Bush made Social Security his #1 domestic issue. By offering a counter proposal, the Democrats would, more then anything, validate Bush's assertion that it is the #1 domestic problem facing the country today. But by offering nothing they will also be validating that agenda, albeit indirectly, by ceding to Bush the authority to set the agenda.

This is where Democrats need to fight back, not on whether Social Security needs to be fixed but instead on Bush's placement of it at the top of the domestic agenda. We need to question Bush's judgment when it comes to setting priorities. Why has Bush devoted so much energy to this issue when there are much more pressing problems clamoring for attention (e.g., health care, the national debt, etc.)

And Bush's questionable judgment isn't limited to Social Security. Dubya has a habit of focusing on the middling problems while shoving off the bigger problems to someone else to solve. We see this domestically, but we also see it in foreign policy, where Bush chose to move Iraq ahead of issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and yes, even international terrorism (though he used the latter as an excuse to justify his invasion of Iraq).

Bush repeatedly demonstrates poor judgment when it comes to setting the agenda of the US government, both foreign and domestic. By offering a counter-proposals to Bush's initiatives, Democrats are simply validating his agenda decisions. By ceding to him the authority to set the agenda the Democrats are giving up on the most devastating critique they could make of his Presidency.

Social Security faces problems, but they are not the most pressing problems we face domestically. Bush has chosen to make it the #1 issue through a combination of incompetence, ideology and as a payoff to the special interests that back him.

Iraq was a problem, but it wasn't the most pressing problem we faced internationally. Bush chose to make it the #1 issue through a combination of incompetence, ideology and as a payoff to the special interests that back him.

Judgment is the issue.

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