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Mr. Hewitt is senior member of theOneRepublic & editorial board. [go to Hewitt index]

Somebody Tell Republicans The Debate's Started
The battle for Social Security…
[Hugh Hewitt] 1/10/05

Saturday's Democratic response to the president's radio address was given by New York Rep. Charles Rangel.  It is a wonderful example of what's ahead in the social security debate. Take these two paragraphs for instance:

"But the facts prove that there is no imminent crisis with Social Security. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says Social Security can pay full benefits for nearly 50 years. So, there is no crisis.. But there is a challenge, because people are living longer.

"Unfortunately, the President's proposal for privatized accounts makes Social Security weaker, not stronger. It drains $2 trillion from the trust fund, leading to drastic cuts in benefits of more than 40 percent." (emphasis added.)

What this tells you is that the Dems have decided that the best path out of the political wilderness is a full-scale assault on the fears of the American middle class and of course, American seniors in the context of the debate over social security reform.  If Charles Rangel is actually willing to say on national radio that President Bush is proposing a 40% cut in benefits, then it is fair to conclude that the Dems will say anything to gain political advantage in this debate.

If you have any doubt about this, visit TalkingPointsMemo, where for the past week Josh Marshall has devoted just under two-thirds of his posts to whipping the Dems into line on the need to demagogue this issue.  "The prerequisite for defending and preserving Social Security is Democratic unity," Marshall breathlessly exclaims at one point, and then names names among the Democrats' " Fainthearted Faction"  --those Dems who might see a small problem in the dwindling number of workers and rising numbers of retirees.  Marshall evidently has promoted himself to uber-whip, and spends a lot of his time calling for action against the ten Representatives and five senators he considers the weak links of the Democrats. (Note to Democratic Party faithful: Can you afford to exile five more senators?)

I suppose it was foolish to think that Democratic partisans would take the opportunity to work through the issue and try, Moynihan style, to arrive at some sensible reform package.  The bitterness at national rejection at every level and the ever more clear prospect of decades in the political wilderness is sending the Marshalls and the Begalas and the Rangels even deeper into the pit they dug throughout 2005. Now they have guessed wrong again.

The decision to go to war on this issue --made even before the president's proposal has been laid on the table-- signals to the GOP that above all the proposal must be kept very easy to understand and consistently argued from an established baseline of facts.  Anything like the HillaryCare beast of 1993-1994 will doom the prospects for a successful legislative overhaul. State the facts simply and repeat them frequently.  Lay out the key reforms in ways that no one can fail to understand. Repeat over and over again that those who are already receiving benefits will never see their benefits cut, and that those currently working but over the specified age will also never see their benefits cut.  As the Rangel message makes clear, the only card the Dems have to play is fear.  That only works if Dems can make large numbers of middle aged and older feel vulnerable.

Dems always accuse conservative pundits of reading from RNC talking points. In the case of social security, the RNC ought to be distributing talking points, and not just to center-right talkers and scribblers.  Shaping this battlefield means starting with the facts, and the Dems have already begun an effort to see that those facts are never admitted into the debate.

If GM's vice-chair can start a blog devoted to car design and customer service because an information loop is important to his business, then the GOP ought to get a blog devoted to social security reform up and running this week.  Either state the facts, or have them stated for you. tOR

copyright 2005 Hugh Hewitt


theOneReublic Principal Contributor Hugh Hewitt is an author, television commentator and syndicated talk-show host of the Salem Radio Network's Hugh Hewitt Show, heard in over 40 markets around the country. He blogs regularly at and he frequently contributes opinion pieces to the Weekly Standard.

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