|Man Without Qualities|
Thursday, August 07, 2003
As a former state governor, Howard Dean has a huge advantage on every Democratic presidential hopeful from the United States Congress - an advantage occasionally noted by, but not really appreciated by, most of the media except the Wall Street Journal (which seems to have a much better grasp on this advantage than the rest of the media).
But Governor Dean is still a lightweight who can occupy the White House only in the event of serious pre-election economic doldrums or genuine Republican scandal.
And maybe not even then, since he has a truly amazing ability to undermine himself. He told the AFL-CIO he never favored raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits to age 70 - which is false. But such inconsistency and casual amnesia is not a terrible burden to bear in getting elected - President Clinton probably committed six or seven such transgressions in any given working day. So what? Well, such things do tend cumulatively to negate one's ability to actually govern - but that's another and future story, which in Governor Dean's case will probably never have to be told.
The real problem with Governor Dean's handling of this potentially volcanic matter is his basis of his explanation for his change of heart:
Dean acknowledged that he had called for such an increase when the country was faced with a deficit in 1995, but said he no longer thinks it is necessary. He said former President Clinton set an example of balancing the budget without raising the retirement age. "Clinton proved that if you run a decent economy and have a budget surplus and some jobs, then you don't need to raise the age to extend the life of Social Security," Dean said in a telephone interview after The Associated Press questioned conflicting statements he has made on the issue.
But Governor Dean seems to be saying that when the country does not have a decent economy and have a budget surplus and some jobs, then he may very well see a need to raise the age to extend the life of Social Security. We now know that when President Clinton left office the economy was slipping into recession. Moreover, the tech boom that buoyed the economy towards the end of Mr. Clinton's term is widely now seen as an orgy of "mis-investment" and "overcapitalization" which requires a long recovery period. In the face of all that, neither Mr. Dean nor anyone else has explained what they would have done to keep a decent economy and have a budget surplus and some jobs.
Which suggests that if Governor Dean had been elected to the Presidency in 2000, he would now be seeing a need to raise the age to extend the life of Social Security - because he really has no policy prescriptions for avoiding what he characterizes as the current economic doldrums. Besides, the traditional Democratic justification for non-privatized social security is that the program is supposed to be the ultimate safety net that keeps on functioning exactly when the private economy goes south. If anyone could always maintain a decent economy and have a budget surplus and some jobs, there would probably be no good argument for social security at all - and certainly a privatized system would be hard to resist.
Anyone who thinks social security recipients and future social security recipients and analysts are not going to ask questions in this kind of detail just doesn't understand this topic - and that seems to include Governor Dean.
Comments: Post a Comment