Michael Kinsley: Bush Deserves B+ For Honesty On Social Security Position
L.A. Times Editorial Page and Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley — often one of the wittiest commentators around on the left or right — has looked at President George Bush’s last press conference and gives him high marks for political honesty and guts for his social security indexing proposal.
He rattles off a bunch of other things, then writes:
There was a remarkable amount of honesty and near honesty. Bush’s rebuff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was superb. The people who oppose his judgeship nominees aren’t prejudiced against religion, he said. They do it because they have a different “judicial philosophy.” That is exactly the point. His characterization of the difference â€” his opponents “would like to see judges legislate from the bench” â€” is not quite right. Just a couple of weeks ago, his party tried desperately to force judges to “legislate from the bench” to prevent the removal of life support from Terri Schiavo. But a straightforward debate about judicial philosophy is indeed what we need.
Then it got even better. Starting with the cliche that in America you can “worship any way you want,” Bush plunged gratuitously into a declaration that “if you choose not to worship, you’re equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship.” How long has it been, in this preacher-spooked nation, since a politician, let alone the president, has spoken out in defense of nonbelievers?
But it’s on Social Security where Kinsley feels Bush showed he had political courage.
But he went from implicitly suggesting that his privatization scheme is a pain-free solution to implicitly endorsing a plan for serious benefit cuts. For a politician, that’s an admirable difference.
Kinsley has other point: what will the Democrats do now?
Are they going to be alligators on this one? Why Bush has taken this on remains a mystery. There is no short-term political advantage, and there are other real long-term problems that are more pressing. But he has done it, to his credit.
Kinsley labels Bush’s privitizations plans a “mathematical fraud and notes that if it’s truly voluntary it’s probably can’t hurt:”And if that’s Bush’s price for being out front on a real solution to the real problem, the Democrats should let him have it.”
And then he delivers his conclusion, which shows why a Kinsley column (whether you agree with him or not) is so refreshing in tone and ideas:
Unless they are complete morons — always a possibility — the Democrats could end up in the best of all worlds. They know in their hearts that Social Security has to change in some unpleasant way. Bush, for whatever reason, is willing to take this on, and to take most of the heat. And all he wants in return is the opportunity to try something that will alienate people from the Republican Party for generations.
Indeed, unless support grows for Social Security reform — specific support that can be measured in polls and bipartisan Congressional support — Bush could be faced with trying to reform a still popular program through sheer power politics and a partisan vote. Right now, unless something changes, Social Security reform would have to be shoved through without bipartisan consensus. Of course, by law Bush must leave the White House in January 2009….but the other GOPers will be there. But if it’s a mostly partisan vote, there may be fewer GOPers around in 2009 as well.