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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Shrub's First Failure

Here's another good article from the New York Times about how the public not only isn't buying Bush's hardsell on Social Security, but now feels that Bush is out of step with the majority of American people. According to this story, the people polled did not share Bush's priorities on Social Security or the deficit.

I have a theory that this is going to be much harder to sell than the tax cuts were. In truth, when Americans were polled, they always said that they were more concerned about a budget deficit than having their taxes cut. Even at the very beginning when the country still had the budget surplus, Americans weren't keen on a tax cut. But, once they got it anyway, it was tough to actually be angry about more money in your pocket. In fact, those of us who were still opposed to the tax cut, were probably motivated by ideology rather than rational self-interest. Not a bad thing.

But most people do balance their ideals with the self-interest. At their best, though, rational self-interest is the key concept, not galloping blind selfishness. So, while people weren't about to get worked up about getting a tax refund, they also weren't rushing out to vote for Bush just based on that, in most places. Of course, there were exceptions. But most of the people who supported tax cuts did so less for personally selfish reasons than for ideological ones. They really do believe in "starving the beast," as Stephen Moore, from the Club for Growth, calls the government. It's not just that they want to keep their money. They really do hate the government. Any government that interferes with guns and the corporate boardroom. Of course, marching into your bedroom or doctor's office or issuing a supoena for your medical records is an entirely different matter. Then, the beast can rear its ugly head.

But, like the tax cuts, privatized Social Security is an ideological issue for those who hate government and don't want anybody to benefit from it because they are trying to make us, not just "starve the beast" but also hate the beast. They want us to believe that government is good for nothing.

But Americans aren't buying it. They believe it is the government's responsibility to guarantee a decent retirement to senior citizens. And that's the reason Bush, while successful at getting his tax cuts, will fail at this.

This involves taking something away from middle-class people that they feel entitled to. Most Americans are not ideological warriors. They are pragmatic. And this is cutting an actual benefit from them. Giving them a tax cut wasn't asking them to make a sacrifice. Yeah, maybe they cared about the deficit, but let's face it, this put something in their pocket, so how mad were they going to get even if they disagreed with the need to do it? They personally benefitted by it. This isn't putting it in their pockets. Instead, it's taking it away.

And most Americans are too savvy to trust something as important as their golden years to the vagaries of the stock market. We're too fresh from witnessing the bursting of the dot.com bubble. Although the market is doing better now, too many people lost too much money too recently to be comfortable with a risky retirement scheme that depends on their investing in that market, which is still a wild rollercoaster ride They already did that with their 401(k)s. Kinda, been there, done that. Not dumb enough to make that mistake again.

Oh yeah, and even Republicans can read polls and know when they shouldn't touch the third rail. This dog ain't gonna hunt.