Tags: Derailing | the | Third | Rail

Derailing the Third Rail

Sunday, 13 March 2005 12:00 AM

What tipped over that apple cart?

Not what ... who?

The answer, as with so many first-issue causes lately, is George W. Bush.

Even before he first ran for president, Bush began doing what conventional wisdom decreed was assured self-destruction. He pronounced Social Security a disaster in the making, a mathematical impossibility of survival in the near future – that is, in the lifetimes of most contemporary Americans.

But he didn't stop there, which would have fit most Democratic approaches to issues: Decry an approaching horror, milk that for all it's worth politically and then offer no solution, especially if any possible fix is going to be painful and require guts to undertake.

Instead, Bush kept banging away at the existence of the peril, while at the same time presenting plausible ways of salvaging Social Security before it disintegrates beneath its own tonnage.

Cheerfully, the leftists pointed to Bush as the village idiot visiting New York and reaching for that strange, shiny, long, metal thing down there running alongside the subway tracks.

They were only too pleased to let this brash Bush save them the trouble of removing him from the scene.

As seems to be his specialty, Bush outsmarted them with his courage and farsightedness. He grabbed hold of the third rail, never letting go. Now the whole country can see that the analogy was a myth.

Bush is politically healthier than ever, more energetic than any of his competitors in sight.

Worse, for them, he is calling the tune to which they are having to dance.

When Bush correctly characterized the Social Security issue a crisis, they said he was lying.

When the American people stopped buying that, the Democrats threw the towel partway into the ring and muttered, er, ahem, well, that is to say, they meant it was a problem not a crisis.

Even as they stepped right into the bear trap Bush had set for them, he congratulated the Democrats for recognizing along with him that a serious problem really does exist. Once having uttered the word problem, they couldn't very well come back and say the problem went away.

Abandonment of denial is the first step, Bush counseled. Acceptance of the reality that there's something bad wrong is the second step, he said. So, congratulations on first steps taken, he said.

Now on to the next step: What are we going to do about it? he asked.

Democrats wanted to know where he got that "we" stuff. They would still rather be caught dead than caught agreeing with Bush on anything. Bush let it be known he was ready to accommodate them on that, too, if they insisted.

Ignoring that not-so-subtle caution, one by one they rejected any and all remedial approaches Bush set forth for debate. Take everything off the table you put there, they demanded of the president, radically redefining the word negotiation.

Determined to lurch right smack into the next bear trap Bush had set for them, they thus negated themselves into being the Party of No on saving Social Security, thus forfeiting to Republicans the salvation of Social Security.

Who in his right mind would have predicted a couple of years ago that the Democratic Party would be countermarching away from the very core of its core, the Social Security base it thought it had branded as its very own property back during the New Deal.

Just wait, it won't be long before the saner heads among the Democrats will be reasoning that this ain't no way to stay alive as a political party.

Again, who in his right mind would have dreamed that such sage counsel would be coming, as it is now, from the likes of the Ragin' Cajun, aka James Carville, none other than Bill Clinton's

By the time the Cajun's advice sinks in, as it will, the president will have maneuvered his opponents into exactly where he wanted them from the beginning. If they only knew it, he will have saved them from their own third rail – embittered reactionary obstructionism.

Bush will be gracious and call it bipartisanship, but the truth is the Democrats will have no place to go other than more or less in step with the president.

It's too late now for either party to allow Social Security to go unsaved. No exit strategy short of success is conceivable. And it is Bush, by his audacity and grit, who has put both parties in this joint inability to avoid greatness.

Together, Democrats and Republicans will bumble through some kind of compromise and Social Security will be saved – everyone taking credit. Don't look. It may not be too pretty, but that is how democracy works.

Nor will it happen immediately. Instant gratification of television's insatiable maw isn't the name of this game.

Bush's critics scoff that in less than two months after his second Inaugural address, in which he made Social Security reform his primary domestic goal, he still hasn't accomplished it.

They forget that Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't even attempt creating Social Security as part of his whirlwind First Hundred Days. It took FDR nearly three years to get it enacted. And it was yet another four and a half years after that before regular monthly benefits were paid.

So, why should rescuing Social Security take less time and effort than creating it? What's the big hurry?

In light of Social Security's history, Bush is already making tremendous progress in a remarkably short period.

Yes, there will be ups and downs, zigs and zags, twists and turns, setbacks and advances. But Social Security will be saved while Bush is still president.

It will be remembered as one of history's bitter-sweet ironies – Republican Bush riding to the rescue of Democrat Roosevelt's pet program, over the ugly opposition of Democrats who would be an embarrassment to FDR and the foot-dragging of Republicans who would rather pass the buck than face the music.

If this president hadn't had the courage to grasp that third rail, Social Security would remain a gathering crisis, ever-more costly to rescue until even that would be beyond reach.

Historians will write that Bush's greatness was his uncanny ability to enable democracy to work at home and to sprout where it never before bloomed abroad.

Who would have thought it possible? Bush did.

The man is far smarter than all his slanderers rolled together, far more adept than they at their own game.

And don't anyone say it didn't take courage to grab hold of that third rail. Or to kick open the door of freedom for the oppressed throughout the Arab world ... and beyond.

George W. Bush, the Great Enabler.

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What tipped over that apple cart? Not what ... who? The answer, as with so many first-issue causes lately, is George W. Bush. Even before he first ran for president, Bush began doing what conventional wisdom decreed was assured self-destruction. He pronounced Social...
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2005-00-13
Sunday, 13 March 2005 12:00 AM
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