Saturday, February 05, 2005

Kristof on Social Security 

Nicholas Kristof has been doing some great reporting about issues around the world. On subjects as varied as the coalition of the, ahem, ‘willing’ to Islamic fundamentalism, to the child sex trade, he's been a great reporter, going where others fear to tread. He’s been out in front on many issues. But now that he’s back home, he’s stepped into the Social Security debate without considering what’s happened to politics here in the US.

In today’s NY Times, Kristof suggests that privatization is somehow more ‘modernized’ as a pension system, contending that since Singapore has it, privatization must be right. He doesn’t bring up the unpleasant problems with privatization in Singapore, where pensioners now retire cash-poor under their system, while paying 33% of their paychecks in payroll taxes.

Kristof’s contention is that Democrats, despite a cynical Trojan Horse campaign by the President, should enter into a compromising partnership with the Administration to make changes to Social Security that will be the basis for a new century’s pensions. Kristof doesn’t realize that while he’s been traveling the world, the Bush Administration and the GOP Congressional leadership have been working in lockstep to lure Democrats into compromises to get legislation into the conference process, then turning around behind closed doors to eliminate the compromises. There’s no reason to believe that in their most high profile priority, that the Administration will change the 'my-way or the highway' approach they’ve taken to every other legislative issue.

As for Democrats taking a position of their own on Social Security, Kristof suggests this as if any position the Democrats present, in advance of a vote on the Administration's plan, would be other than dead on arrival. There is no question that the Administration and the Congressional majorities will use a Democratic proposal, if advanced before the Republican legislation is written, as a red herring rather than a position to consider. Democrats should wait to deal first with the Administration’s proposal, then advance their own plan, not the other way around.

If the Democrats play their cards right, they’ll be able to present a plan at the right time, from a position of strength on the issue, not as a party pleading for mercy from a President pledged to run up debt and pull out the safety net from under the people. Otherwise, they'll be playing a sucker's game, which won't advance the cause of real Social Security reform.

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