The Democratic Challenge (DAVID SHRIBMAN, November 13, 2006, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
No longer is it good enough to say that the president prevaricated getting us into Iraq and bumbled once we got there. Now the Democrats have to say how they would win or leave. No longer is it good enough to say that the president’s plans for Social Security are a radical departure from the 1935 vision of Franklin Roosevelt. Now the Democrats have to say what they would do to keep the system secure, or whether they would change public expectations of how much help Social Security will provide Americans when they retire.
These two choices — win or leave, strengthen Social Security or cut public expectations and public disbursements — may seem stark. But those are the choices. Neither problem, both signature challenges of our era, is ripe for fuzzy responses or fuzzy math. Choose one, make the argument, take a vote, live with the consequences.
There are scores of other choices like those. The war on terror, which no one wants to abandon. Climate change, which every industrial nation but America has at least tried to address. Education, where every problem cannot be solved by having students take tests and having teachers teach to those tests. Competitiveness, a word from the 1980s, perhaps, but a challenge for the 21st century. The tax system, which hasn’t been overhauled for 20 years and isn’t getting any more rational. The balance between religious life and civic life, a challenge Americans have struggled with for two centuries, but which seems even more stubborn in an age of rapid technological change.
One thing no one, including the ascendant Democrats, says about President Bush is that he is unwilling to make a choice and live with it. A short time after September 11, 2001, Thomas Rath, the New Hampshire political strategist, encountered the president at a White House event. Mr. Rath is a congenial man, his impulse unfailingly to offer comfort. To Mr. Bush, like the rest of the country still dealing with the immediate shock of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, he said something along these lines: “Nobody asks to deal with something like this.” Mr. Bush responded immediately and forcefully: “Some people do.”
So the next time you see congressional leaders wringing their hands at the difficulties posed by Social Security or Iraq or whatever the next crisis is, remember that encounter between Messrs. Rath and Bush. It isn’t as if nobody asked to deal with problems like those the newly empowered Democrats face. They asked.