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March 03, 2005

Fear of Good Policy from Bush

Okay, so even if private accounts are completely scuttled, Hesiod at the American Street is horrified at the thought that Bush might lift the income cap on social security taxes:

So here is what will likely happen. Bush will eventually abandon the private accounts idea, and embrace one of the aforementioned alternative “fixes” for Social Security. He will almost certainly get Democratic support for those fixes.

That, in turn, will give many Republicans who are in marginal districts or in Blue States political cover to “save” Social Security by endorsing and voting for, say, removing the income cap on FICA.

Then, VIOLA! — George W. Bush and the Republicans go into the 2006 midterms as the party that "saved Social Security!"

But Hesiod, this is called WINNING, when the opposition party endorses your policy in order to stay in power. If Bush starts out trying to destroy social security and instead is forced to make the social security tax system more equitable, that's a good thing. In fact, it's a change in Social Security that might have been unattainable if Kerry was in office, since the GOP would have blocked it, just as they would have blocked any form of prescription drug benefit for seniors if Gore had been in office.

Being in office is not always to the advantage of a party, precisely because they are held responsible for all policies. An adroit opposition, if they seize this advantage, can actually force through political changes that would be impossible if they were initially in power, although they can build on the policy achieved in opposition to rally support for later changes when they do win office.

Look at the supply-siders under Carter-- they pushed through the early tax cuts in 1978 that paved the way for political triumph with Reaganism. The conservative movement did not build strength purely through obstructionism in the 1970s, but through arguing for their principles and extracting whatever favorable policy they could as an opposition, then arguing they could do even more of it if they were given full power. That was Reagan's message in 1980 and it was quite effective. If progressives just play defense and engage in obstructionism as their only message, they are doomed to be seen as only the party of opposition, useful as a check on abuse by reigning conservatives but not a serious option for governance. Of course, Democrats should filibuster all bad policy, but they should be maneuvering for good policies they can share credit for as well.

Posted by Nathan at March 3, 2005 10:27 AM