Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Partisan politics in Washington this season are getting interesting, as a few Democrats are cautiously beginning to challenge their leadership’s strategy of total opposition to major Bush initiatives. It is dawning on some Democrats that their all-defense strategy may not pair up well with President Bush’s all offense strategy.

President Bush plays politics the way my friends and I used to play pick-up football when I was a kid. In the huddle, the quarterback would tell everyone else to go out long. On the snap the quarterback would dance around in the backfield until one of us five or six receivers got open, at which point he would complete the pass. With both sides going long all the time, we often ended up with basketball scores.

The Democrats, on the other hand, when on offense, merely receive the snap and fall on the ball. When on defense, they put all their men on the line, trying for a quick sack of the quarterback. If the quarterback is too agile for them, they are vulnerable to be scored upon, given their lack of a pass defense.

When two such teams meet, the best score the all-defense Democrats can hope for is a 0-0 tie. The best score the all-offense Republicans can expect is at least a 56-0 win. So far, since 2001 the score is about 42-0, the president having completed passes on tax cuts and the economy, the Afghan war, the Iraq war, the Middle East democracy project, prescription drugs and class-action lawsuits, among the major items.

In the next couple of months and years the president is going to throw long on Social Security, bankruptcy reform, asbestos litigation reform, judicial appointments, Medicaid reform, Medicare reform and tax simplification. If he completes all those passes the final score would be 91- 0, and “Daily Show” star Jon Stewart’s self-admitted worst fear will be realized — his daughter will be going to George W. Bush High School in downtown Manhattan.

Of course, the analogy to football isn’t perfect. In politics, some touchdowns are worth more points than others. If Mr. Bush can pass Social Security reform, that touchdown would be worth about 200 points all by itself. And, unlike football, in politics some wins later are re-scored as losses, such as the temporary win by slave-holders in the Dred Scott decision. They won the Supreme Court decision in 1857, but lost the war in 1865.

Currently the big fight is Social Security reform. The official congressional Democratic leadership position is that there is no problem that a modest soak-the-rich tax increase couldn’t fix. Well, as the current unfunded liability of Social Security is $3.7 trillion, we know with precision the minimum level of tax increase needed to fill that void — $3.7 trillion. That would be the largest tax increase since … well since tax increases were invented by the Pharaohs at the dawn of civilization. And we wouldn’t even have a bunch of pointy buildings to show for it, because such a tax increase would slam the breaks on a growing economy, including the construction industry.

But because the Democratic leadership is intent on denying Mr. Bush a “victory” on Social Security, they are whipping their members to not negotiate with the president or congressional Republicans. Thus, a few weeks ago Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced that his fellow Democratic senators were completely united in refusing to deal on the issue.

Even when he said it, it wasn’t true. Between a half-dozen and a dozen Democratic senators have been meeting and talking seriously about Social Security legislation in three more or less separate, but related, conversations with Republican Sens. Charles Grassley, Lindsey Graham and Chuck Hagel for several weeks. Keep in mind, Republicans only have to pick up five Democrats to pass Social Security over a filibuster effort in the Senate.

Finally, last weekend, Sen. Joe Lieberman, long reputed to be one of the Democratic participants in those discussions, put himself on the record on CNN : “So, at some point we’ve got to stop criticizing each other and sit at the table and work out this problem … Every year we wait to come up with a solution to the Social Security problem [it] costs our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren $600 billion more.” The next morning the New York Times, which on Social Security seems to be the house organ for Mr. Reid’s maximum obstruction operation, ran a long article about Mr. Lieberman on the theme of “the difficulty of trying to be a centrist in an increasingly polarized political climate.” After using most of the article as a poster board for named and unnamed left-wing cranks to say rude things about poor old Joe, the article did admit in one sentence that: “Polls show that more than two-thirds of Connecticut Democrats approve of his performance, and so do more than two-thirds of Connecticut Republicans.” Apparently it is not that difficult to be a centrist Democrat.

I rather hope that not too many more Democratic senators come to their senses and work for genuine reform. No point in re-electing more Democrats than is necessary. So to the 36 obstructing Democrats: Keep it up, and have a nice post-Senate life.

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