With all the complaints from the right about congressional Republicans, it’s fascinating to watch Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby argue that it’s the Democrats who’ve abandoned their principles. Mallaby castigates congressional Democrats for refusing to work toward Social Security reform, even if that meant compromising with Republicans.
I may not agree with Mallaby’s exact take on this issue, but at least he understands that Social Security is badly in need of reform.
Conservatives are right to complain that the Republicans are spending too much. But here’s a side of the equation we say far too little about. The president and the Republicans in Congress tried to reform Social Security. This was an extremely difficult and politically risky initiative. It was also the right thing to do. The Social Security reform effort was consistent with conservative principles and, given the demographics of the baby boom, desperately needed. Someday, because we failed to act in time, we will likely be facing difficult and even more politically painful decisions on Social Security.
The president’s initiative, backed by congressional Republicans, was a political failure. Karl Rove and the president have been castigated for the poor political judgement. But shouldn’t we be praising them for having the courage to propose a fundamental and conservative change, even in the face of great political risk? My impression is that conservatives did far less to publicly support the president and the Republicans on Social Security reform than liberals did to oppose them. Years from now, quite possibly in the midst of an economic crisis, the country is going to look back and wish that entitlement reform had succeeded in 2005.
If the president and the Republicans failed, it was not for want of trying. I don’t claim that everything they did on Social Security was either politically brilliant or perfect policy. But on balance, the president and congressional Republicans deserve great credit for trying. It’s only fair to remember this, and the Democrats’ obstructionism, before election day.