Tuesday, March 08, 2005
AS PROMISED....DANIEL SHORR
On his 60-day, 60-stop Social Security blitz, President Bush tends to emphasize solvency, but in more restricted circles of supporters, the emphasis is on ideology. A January limited-circulation memo by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, said that the overhaul of Social Security will be `one of the most conservative undertakings of modern times and, if successful, will rank as one of the most significant conservative governing achievements ever.'
In public, the administration has shied away from the question of benefit reductions, but Wehner wrote, `We're going to take a very close look at changing the way benefits are calculated.' As to conservatives who press for investment accounts without touching benefits, Wehner calls that a `bad idea.'
In case anyone doubts the ideological underpinning of the campaign for Social Security overhaul, Wehner writes that, `We consider our Social Security reform not simply an economic challenge, but a moral goal and a moral good.' And he predicted that the debate over Social Security is going to be `a monumental clash of ideas that will help the nation to move away from dependency on government.'
What is the origin of the president's preoccupation with turning back the clock on a program going back to FDR? In 1997, Mr. Bush had dinner at the Governor's Mansion in Austin with Ed Crane, president of the libertarian Cato Institute, and Jose Pinera, who, as labor minister in the Pinochet government in Chile, had taken that country's pension scheme private. According to Crane, who confirmed to me a report in Mother Jones magazine, then-Governor Bush said, `Jose, you make a very compelling case. I do believe that privatizing Social Security is the most important domestic issue facing the nation.'
If Republican and Democrat are having trouble finding common ground for negotiation, it is in part because how do you compromise with a crusade? This is Daniel Schorr.