The Corner

Third Rail Returns

The supposed political story of 2005 is the president’s run of hard

luck. And the conventional litany of slip-ups always features the

president’s failure to reform social security. That so-called failure will

someday be seen as a badge of honor. The real failure here was the

Democrats’, who will ultimately be shamed by their sacrifice of the

nation’s welfare to political calculation. Had the Democrats offered a

plan on social security, we’d have gotten the beginnings of entitlement

reform: a compromise of some sort that would have established personal

accounts, cut expenditures, and probably slightly raised social security

taxes as well. That might have opened up the way to more. Yes, there was

a political hope in the president’s plan for personal accounts, but the

point is he was willing to compromise in order to establish them. We can’t

solve the entitlement problem unless both parties are willing to

compromise. And the Democrats refused to play. It’s easy to criticize

Europe’s short-sighted refusal to scale back the welfare-state in

preparation for the coming demographic tsunami. But we’ve failed too,

thanks to the Democrats.

The political and economic consequences of the Democrats’ fateful decision

to stonewall on social security will be large. It’s unlikely that any

American president will attempt serious entitlement reform for many

years. Raise the retirement age? Which party is going to propose that

now? A crisis will have to hit before we get meaningful reform, and by

then it will probably be too late. I’ve seen a number of articles recently

about the coming retirement crunch. Funny how MSM stopped running those

pieces for the duration of the social security battle.

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